Invasive Species

In GCSE Geography students will look at the negative effects that invasive, non-native species of both plant and animal have on an established ecosystem. Most of them have been introduced by humans, either deliberately or accidentally, so it is therefore our collective responsibility to try to control the problems caused. This quiz looks at those effects and also some possible methods of lessening their impact.

In 2014 the European Union ratified an agreement to remove the most invasive species out of the entire European area. This included species of plant such as Japanese knotweed, and animals like grey squirrels, muntjac deer and pond slider turtles. The total cost of invasive non-native species to the British economy is estimated at £1.7 billion annually, and worldwide is around 5% of annual production.

An invasive, non-native species is any non-native animal or plant that has the ability to spread and causing damage to the environment, the economy, our health and the way we live. The intention is for the worst species to be removed entirely, limiting their spread back into the EU. However, many of the vectors (such as ballast water of ships - which often contains micro-organisms) are still a risk, meaning that measures have to be put in place.

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Some people are arguing that, whilst many of the more exotic animals (such as racoons and certain species of chipmunk) are going to be outlawed, other animals that are equally invasive and destructive, are unregulated as of yet in the EU.

It is estimated that worldwide non-native, invasive species have caused 40% of all extinctions. In Europe 10 new invasive species are thought to become established each year. In the UK £13.9 million worth of damage and around 12 deaths a year are caused by collisions between cars and wild deer, many of which are non-native invasive species.

It’s worth knowing some of these figures to allow you to give precise answers to the longer answer questions in exams.

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  1. In 1859, 24 rabbits were released in Australia. 10 years later, 2 million could be hunted with no noticeable affect on the population. What is the impact of the rabbits on the Australian landscape today?
    An English farmer by the name of Thomas Austin introduced the 24 grey rabbits to his plot of land to remind him of home. In the mid 20th Century the introduction of the myxomatosis virus helped bring the population under control, but rabbits, along with camels and donkeys, also introduced by humans, are still a problem species in the Australian Outback
  2. What is a non-native species?
    Non-native species are normally moved by human intervention, whether by deliberate or accidental introduction
  3. The harlequin ladybird is considered the UKs fastest invading species but little is being done to eradicate them. Which of the following is not a reason that the ladybird isn't being targeted for eradication?
    Knotweed, another invasive species, costs around £166 million annually and is far from being under control in some areas, whereas the harlequin ladybird is (as of yet) not making any obvious impact. It may be that they will help our economy by preying on crop pests
  4. Lionfish have been introduced outside of their native range and are being targeted for destruction in some locations. Why are lionfish a threat to other marine species in the Florida area?
    As a species that can surive in lower salt environments, lionfish may invade the Everglades which is a key area for breeding and where many species of fish grow as fry. With no natural predators in this area the population is growing uncontrollably
  5. Red-eared sliders are a species of pond turtle native to North America. How have they become widespread throughout the UK?
    The film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lead to a huge increase of purchases of these tiny hatchling turtles. After a few years they outgrew most standard aquariums and were abandoned. Millions have been imported into the UK and are still being imported in the hundreds of thousands, despite few people having the ability to house them as adults
  6. Some introduced species become naturalised. What does this mean?
    A species may be introduced through accidental introductions, but if it is unable to reproduce or survive in the new climate it will not become naturalised. The grey squirrel has become naturalised in the UK since its introduction in the 1870's causing the severe decline of our native red squirrel through competition and spreading diseases to which the red squirrels have no immunity
  7. How does climate change affect the spread of invasive species?
    The warmer weather is already having an impact on some invasive species in the UK, with species which were previously unable to breed in the shorter summer period now thriving
  8. In the 20th Century, American mink escaped into the British countryside when they were released from fur farms by animal rights activists. What has the impact been on the natural environment?
    The water vole has been reduced by as much as 94%, although not all were killed by mink - some of the decline is due to habitat loss
  9. Why might invasive species legislation across Europe not be appropriate for all member states?
    With the climate being generally colder, some of the species (such as apple snails and slider turtles) can't breed in northerly countries like the UK. Banning these species because they can breed in Spain has been met with a lukewarm reaction in the UK
  10. What can cat owners do to reduce the risk to local wildlife from their pet?
    Cats have been around humans for thousands of years and were probably encouraged by people in Egypt and the Middle East about 4000 years ago to protect food stores from rats and other rodents. In some parts of the world it is illegal to allow your cat to roam. As a semi-domesticated species, hunting is still a natural behaviour even when they are supplied with plenty of other food. Not all cat owners have their animals neutered which can lead to colonies of feral cats - their main source of food is from hunting

Author: Ruth M

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