Striped eel catfish   Picture: Tim Sheerman-Chase CC by 2.0

The striped eel catfish (Plotosus lineatus) can inflict injuries on humans  Picture: Tim Sheerman-Chase CC by 2.0

The first priority lists for invasive alien species of potential concern to biodiversity, ecosystems and human health within the Mediterranean region have been compiled.

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology teamed up with institutions in Cyprus and across Europe for the ‘horizon scanning’ project. Although the scientists concentrated on threats to Cyprus, the outcomes and processes of their study should help many Mediterranean islands to improve prioritisation and management of invasive alien species.

The 51 biodiversity and human health experts agreed on the top 100 invasive alien species that constituted at least a medium risk to biodiversity and of these 20 were ranked as very high risk. A high proportion of those species identified also pose a threat to human health ranging from nuisance to disease transmission.

One of the potential invasive alien species highlighted within this study is silver wattle Acacia dealbata, an invasive tree species related to golden wreath wattle (Acacia saligna), which is already present and known to have adverse impacts where it invades. Acacia dealbata reduces biodiversity by competing with native plants and replacing grass communities but it also increases water loss from habitats around rivers and can directly affect human health through the production of allergenic pollen.

Within the marine environment, one of the invasive alien species that could have impacts on biodiversity and human health is the striped eel catfish (Plotosus lineatus). This species has spines with venomous glands and secretes a potent toxin from its skin. It can also inflict injuries to fishermen and women. There is currently ongoing research to develop a full risk assessment for this species relevant to the entire EU.

Lead author Jodey Peyton, an ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), says: “This research would not have been possible without the contributions of so many experts from across the Mediterranean region and beyond. It is exciting to consider that it represents the first-ever priority list for invasive alien species in Cyprus.

“This priority list, the first within the Mediterranean region, will help inform actions to prevent the arrival of these species or manage their impacts. The process and outcomes should provide other islands in the region and beyond with approaches to improve invasive alien species prioritisation and management.”

Dr Kelly Martinou, Head Entomologist of the laboratory of Vector Ecology and Applied Entomology, Joint Services Health Unit, British Forces, Cyprus, adds: “This holistic approach, encompassing human health and biodiversity impacts, to predicting and prioritising invasive alien species is an exciting first step in the process leading to prevention. We will continue to raise awareness of the threat from invasive alien species and consider ways to help enhance effective biosecurity within the region.”

Invasive alien species are plants, animals or other organisms that are introduced by humans, intentionally or accidentally (largely via shipping), into a region in which they previously did not occur, and are major causes of biodiversity loss globally, with adverse effects on ecosystems and also human health.

The process and outcomes should provide other islands in the region and beyond with approaches to improve invasive alien species prioritisation and management - Jodey Peyton of CEH

The results of the horizon scanning study – which is a systematic examination of information to identify potential threats and risks – have been published in the journal Biological Invasions.

Professor Helen Roy, an ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, says “This study highlights the importance of collaborations among experts from around the world – sharing knowledge and understanding will ensure the best available ecological evidence is widely available to inform decision-making.”

The project was part of wider CEH-led research in Cyprus funded by the UK Government’s Darwin Plus initiative, and the team of scientists will be continuing their collaborations through a new study investigating the drivers of ecological change across the Akrotiri saltmarshes in the Sovereign Base Area of Akrotiri.

Using remote sensing and on-the-ground measurements of water quality, alongside biodiversity surveys, to assess community interactions between native and non-native species they will establish approaches for evaluating the 'health' of this highly-valued wetland.

Paper information

Jodey Peyton, Angeliki F. Martinou et al. (2019). Horizon scanning for invasive alien species with the potential to threaten biodiversity and human health on a Mediterranean island. Biological Invasions. DOI: 10.1007/s10530-019-01961-7

CEH authors: Jodey Peyton, Oliver Pescott, Marc Botham, Hannah Dean, Owen Mountford, Stephanie Rorke, Stefanie Schafer, Katherine Turvey, Ian WinfieldHelen Roy

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