This week saw the publication of a new paper involving the Blackburn group:
The research it presents is part of an exciting ongoing collaboration with a large number of scientists interested in biological invasions. The paper reports the rather alarming fact that even though human have been introducing alien species for thousands of years, a high proportion of new alien records - one in four – relate to species never seen as aliens before, anywhere in the world. In other words, we seem to be a long way from running out of species to introduce as aliens.
The reason for the growth in the number of new records of aliens is a growth in the volume of trade - as we move more goods and commodities around the world, more species get moved with them, deliberately (as commodities themselves) or accidentally (as hitch-hikers). The reason why such a high proportion of these aliens are "new" seems to be partly that this greater trade is sampling source pools of species more extensively, and partly because we are opening up new source pools via new trade routes.
New aliens are a potential worry. Many alien species have caused substantial environmental and socio-economic problems. Biosecurity measures mainly attempt to deal with the problem of alien incursions through watch lists of species that have been troublesome aliens elsewhere - special vigilance needs to be kept to prevent species on these lists getting into new areas. However, new aliens by definition cannot be on these lists, because they have never been aliens elsewhere. This suggests that we need new methods of identifying potentially problematic aliens - we need to predict to prevent.
There's a nice write-up of the paper (with interviews) on the Project Earth website:
As it happens, following on from Julian Olden's comments in the article, our group has also this week published a paper that attempts to identify the traits of alien species associated with their negative environmental impacts. The paper can be found here: