Increase in the “Aliens” Among Us

Not to be confused with the squishy, green, three-eyed guys from the Toy Story franchise, “aliens” are simply species non-native to their current environment. And, according to research by the German Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre ,a 36% increase in these species is expected by 2050, threatening ecosystems worldwide.

Asian carp (6887439853)
An Asian carp leaps high out of the water.
Image from Wikimedia Commons

One such example of an alien species is the Asian Carp. Fish first imported in the 1970s to filter pond water in Arkansas fish farms, are now reportedly out-competing native fish for resources in the mid-section of the United States. Most concerning, they are about impossible to eradicate as they have no natural predators in North America and are migrating to the Great Lakes, where their preferred food (Plankton) is abundant. Another example is the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. Native to China, Japan, and their neighboring countries, this bug was first discovered in Pennsylvania in the 1990s. However, it is unknown how the species got to America. Because they lack natural predators, they are repopulating quickly, impacting home owners and the agricultural industry. These bugs come into homes and bring with them their namesake oder and noisy flying. They have become a pest in the mid-Atlantic region by feeding on fruit plants such as peaches, grapes, and apples.

Back to the study, which states that in 2005 there were around 35,000 alien species worldwide. This is a concerning problem to many biodiversity researchers as alien species can become invasive, damaging ecosystems. They also are known to contribute to the extinction of different plants and animals.

As part of the study, a mathematical model was developed to calculate how many more aliens would be expected by 2050, based on estimated sizes of source pools (the species that could end up becoming invasive). As previously stated, the model expects there to be a 36% worldwide increase by 2050, as compared to the 2005 numbers. A simple calculation puts this new number at 47,250.

Along with numerical data, this study identifies specific regions and their contribution to the overall increase in alien species. Europe, as an example, is expected to have the highest increase (64%), while Australia will see the lowest.

In terms of the specific types of alien species expected, Dr. Hanno Seebens (Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, Germany) said that these new arrivals primarily consist of insects, molluscs, crustaceans, and very few mammals. Research shows that the rate of arrival of these species will increase as well. In Europe alone, the rate of new alien arrivals is expected to increase for all plant and animal groups except mammals.

Unfortunately, a reversal or even slowdown of this issue is not expected. Part of this is due to the expected increase in global trade and transport, where species can infiltrate new lands by being stowaways.

Yet, Seebens said if stricter regulations in global trade and transport were enforced, it could help slow the flow of new species. There are many ways to help stop the spread on the individual level as well, click here to learn more.

Sources:

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Biology Teacher

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