Experts last week advised improving trade controls and awareness of biodiversity to mitigate the harm caused by invasive species, following the release of a comprehensive global report on biodiversity loss.
The landmark Assessment Report on Invasive Alien Species and their Control published by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services on Monday last week found that the global economic cost of invasive species exceeded US$423 billion in 2019 and has at least quadrupled every decade since 1970.
In a video conference hosted the following day by the Science Media Center Taiwan, experts discussed the report and its implications for Taiwan.
Photo: Philippe Rouja / Courtesy of Robots in Service of the Environment via Reuters
Humanity relies on biodiversity, but once a species is lost, it can never be brought back, Academia Sinica Biodiversity Research Center fellow Chung Kuo-fang (鍾國芳) said.
For example, when the common water hyacinth was introduced to Lake Victoria in Africa, it wiped out many fish species important to aquaculture, he said.
The UN Convention on Biological Diversity last year advised island nations to be particularly cautious of invasive species, Chung said, adding that Taiwan has 63,758 recorded species, 243 of which are invasive.
Invasive species can also have a negative effect on human health, National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) School of Life Science professor Kuo Chi-chien (郭奇芊) said.
For example, the Black Death was brought to Europe by flea-ridden rats following traders from Central Asia, eventually killing one in three people, he said.
The yellow fever mosquito, giant African snail, golden apple snail and mites are also disease vectors that have spread across the world, he said.
However, the impacts of invasive species vary widely, making it difficult to conduct a comprehensive assessment, Kuo added.
An immediate response is necessary to eradicate invasive species, National Dong Hwa University zoologist Yang Yi-ru (楊懿如) said.
For instance, the Hong Kong whipping frog — which is very similar to the endemic Polypedates braueri — was introduced to Taiwan many years ago, but no action was taken, Yang said.
It has now spread widely and is known to eat other frog species, she said.
On the other hand, immediate action was taken to eradicate poisonous cane toads, with cooperation from residents in Nantou County’s Caotun Township (草屯), she said.
Thanks to their years of hard work, it is likely to become the world’s first instance of successful eradication, Yang added.
The risks posed by cane toads are well-documented, but Taiwan still allowed its trade as a pet for many years, said Lin Si-min (林思民), who is also a professor at NTNU’s School of Life Science.
Taiwan is a hub of international trade, putting it at constant threat, Chung said, adding that it is important for the general public to understand the importance of protecting the nation’s ecosystems.
Yang said she has encountered many Taiwanese who adhere to a no-kill philosophy or refuse to remove more appealing species such as the Hong Kong whipping frog.
Explanation is necessary to communicate the harms they pose, as well as more humane methods of removal, such as chilling the frogs so they fall unconscious before they are killed as a “necessary evil,” she said.
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