By Faten Omar
KUWAIT: A recent scientific paper published in the BioScience journal highlights breakthroughs in assessing the costs associated with biological invasions, which occur when species are intentionally or accidentally introduced to areas outside their natural habitats by humans. These invasive species, ranging from cats and weeds to crop pests and diseases, pose a significant global threat to ecosystems, biodiversity, and human well-being. The economic toll of biological invasions has exceeded $2 trillion worldwide since the 1970s, encompassing damage to goods and services as well as the costs of managing them, and these economic burdens are steadily increasing.
Dr Danish Ali Ahmed, a leading researcher from Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST), Kuwait, emphasized the presence of numerous invasive species in the Arabian Gulf region. Examples include the red palm weevil, an insect pest that devastates date palm trees; the water hyacinth, an aggressive plant that obstructs waterways and harms aquatic ecosystems; and the house crow, which causes agricultural damage, competes with native birds and can transmit diseases. “The total cost of damage and management efforts linked to invasive species in the Gulf region has exceeded $1.5 billion since the 2000s.
Moreover, this estimate is likely a significant underrepresentation, as many costs in this region go unreported,” Dr Ahmed said. “To mitigate the adverse impacts of invasive species on Kuwait’s environment, economy, and the broader Gulf region, a combination of approaches is required. These include stringent border controls and ongoing monitoring to detect invasive species early, implementing management strategies with risk assessment and control measures, and ensuring efficient allocation of resources.
Additionally, engaging with the public to raise awareness and collaborating with neighboring countries to address cross-border incursions are crucial components of effective invasive species management,” he added. Dr Ahmed also highlighted the efforts of several researchers at local and regional universities, as well as institutions such as the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR), who focus on the challenges posed by invasive species. These research endeavors have increased awareness and provided essential information to guide future policy and legislative decisions.
For instance, the UAE ministry of climate change and environment recently developed a national strategic action plan to mitigate the impacts of invasive species. In 2014, the InvaCost project was initiated due to the reliance on outdated, flawed and unsubstantiated sources for previous cost estimates of biological invasions. InvaCost aimed to compile, describe and standardize cost data from various sources on a global scale, with an initial focus on invasive insects, which are among the most destructive when they become invasive.
The InvaCost database has since expanded to encompass all known invasive species with associated cost data and now involves 145 researchers from 44 countries. The current version of InvaCost contains 13,553 cost entries in 22 languages. Researchers have utilized the InvaCost database to produce over 50 scientific publications, offering cost assessments across various geographical scales, species groups, habitats and economic sectors.
These studies have highlighted the substantial economic costs of invasive species, running into tens of billions of US dollars, including expenses associated with disease-spreading mosquitoes, forest-destroying wood-boring insects, shellfish that clog water-intake pipes and plants causing severe allergies. These studies have proven instrumental in shaping policies for managing invasive species and raising awareness about the escalating economic burdens of biological invasions.
“Our study provides a comprehensive timeline of invasion costs, addressing past flaws and limitations in the scientific literature, the role of InvaCost in addressing these issues and the potential future directions for research and policy. It serves as an essential reference not only for researchers but also for policymakers and stakeholders interested in mitigating the economic impacts of invasive species. Periodic efforts to synthesize invasive species costs are essential to capture the latest information,” explained Dr Ahmed.
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