SSC Specialist Group central to the fight against invasive alien species on islands

25 April 2002 | News story

Gland, Switzerland (IUCN) 25.04.02. The Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) of IUCN's Species Survival Commission is central to implementing a new initiative aimed at combating invasive alien species on islands.

The Cooperative Initiative on Invasive Alien Species on Islands was unveiled by New Zealand's Conservation Minister, the Hon. Sandra Lee, at the 6th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) last week. It has been developed by New Zealand, IUCN, and the Global Invasive Species Programme, on behalf of Pacific islands and other island countries.

Invasive alien species, or IAS, are widely recognised as a major threat to biodiversity worldwide and island biodiversity is especially vulnerable. "Introduced pests are a curse for many island nations," Ms Lee said. "In New Zealand, every night an estimated 70-million possums chew their way through 21,000 tonnes of choice native forest foliage, as well as a wide range of bird's eggs, chicks and insects, while posing the risk of spreading bovine TB and endangering our beef and venison export trade."

Other Pacific island countries are undergoing similar problems. On Tahiti, a South American ornamental tree is shading out significant areas of native forest and contributes to landslides. On Australia's Christmas Island, the crazy ant during one 18-month period killed an estimated three million red land crabs. Of recent bird extinctions, 54% have been attributed to invasive alien species.

But islands also present opportunities for preventing new alien invasions and for eradicating or controlling existing IAS. Thirty years ago it was believed that invasives could only be eradicated from small islands, but there has been a rapid increase in the size of islands from which major invasive mammals have been removed. Major progress has also been made with the management of invasive plants and invertebrates.

The new initiative aims to boost further progress and conserve island biodiversity by building the capacity of small island states to manage their invasive alien species. It has four main components: better use of information; sharing knowledge and skills; develop better techniques; and local and regional capacity building. Under these, key activities will include entering existing data on island IAS into the Global Invasive Species database managed by ISSG; developing a register of expertise on IAS; improving eradication methods, quarantine systems, and early detection of IAS; and training for quarantine and border control officers.

The ISSG, based in Auckland, New Zealand, will host the coordinator of the new initiative and contribute through its staff and expert networks. "Islands offer many options to turn the tide and to fight back against the impacts that invasive alien species have on biological diversity", said ISSG's Dr Maj de Poorter. "The initiative will help local communities and practitioners who are dealing with invasive alien species at the coalface, so to speak - getting results at local level for real people, their kids and their environment."

IAS figured prominently in the CBD discussions. Delegates adopted guiding principles on the prevention, eradication and control of IAS which were significantly influenced by the IUCN Guidelines for the Prevention of Biodiversity Loss Caused by Alien Invasive Species.

For more information see www.issg.org