Giving Invasives the Cold Shoulder

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Posted By Allan Britnell

Barely six months after the official surrender of Japanese forces ended the Second World War, Winston Churchill gave a speech in March 1946 at Westminster College in Missouri where he famously stated that, “an iron curtain has descended across the Continent,” coining a term used ever since to describe the divide that existed between eastern and western Europe during the Cold War.

Yet for all of the hardship and agony that iron curtain brought to the continent it bisected for half-a-century, researchers have recently concluded that it did have one unintended benefit: It was remarkably effective at reducing the spread of invasive species.

Researchers from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem originally intended to created an inventory of invasives in Europe, but analysis of the data compiled showed that human activity – specifically, shutting down cross-border trade – had a huge impact on how many new species were introduced.

Their report, published in the journal Biological Conservation, focused specifically on bird species intentionally introduced as pets (like parrots) or for hunting (such as pheasants and ducks) and concluded that, “The isolation of the Eastern European bloc from the west during the Cold War led to a decline in the number of birds introduced, the number of introduction events and the number of bird species established.”

During the Cold War-era the number of non-Native bird species in Western Europe rose from 36 to 54. Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, the number of invasive birds actually fell from 11 to five.

Not that anyone’s suggesting the reinstatement of cold war-like conditions. On the contrary, one of the study’s co-author’s, Dr. Salit Kark, has written a different paper on how the “coordination of conservation efforts across national boundaries could achieve significantly higher results and at less cost than conservation actions planned within individual states.”

The potential financial savings are astronomical. In a study on conservation efforts in the Mediterranean basin Dr. Kark calculated that the 25 countries in the region could save an astonishing $67-billion – nearly half the projected total cost of the various projects under consideration – if they coordinated all their efforts.

In short, ground-level attempts to prevent or minimize the impacts of invasive species on local populations are costly and potentially fruitless efforts without comprehensive, inter-governmental attention being paid to the sources of spread.

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