Alien invasion: The hidden threat to New Zealand’s biodiversity

Alien invasion: The hidden threat to New Zealand’s biodiversity

New Zealand’s unique flora and fauna have long been the country's pride. However, a hidden threat looms large over this precious ecosystem – invasive alien species. 

Professor Jacqueline Beggs, Director of the Centre for Biodiversity and Biosecurity at Auckland University, told REX host Dominic George about the pervasive issue of these unwelcome intruders and their impact on global ecosystems.

These uninvited guests, transported through human activities, are disrupting ecosystems worldwide. 

“Alien species are species which have shifted through human activities into a new range," she said.

"The invasive alien species means that when they have arrived in that new range, they are causing a significant negative impact on biodiversity, the economy, the receiving ecosystems.”

Alien invasive species are not just an abstract concept in New Zealand. The land is home to a host of invasive species like gorse, wasps, myrtle rust, Caulerpa seaweed, and full army wind. 

“They're well established now. They're widespread and there's just... you could write a book about how much damage they're causing in New Zealand.”

Professor Beggs further delved into the most extensive evaluation of invasive alien species ever conducted. This Herculean task involved collaboration between 86 experts across 49 countries and spanned over four years. The study underscores the need for a concerted global effort to counteract this environmental menace.

Professor Beggs also underscores the critical role that New Zealand and Australia play in combating this issue. 

“New Zealand and Australia actually have long been concerned about biosecurity, I guess because of our isolation and our unique flora and fauna have really focused attention...compared to the rest of the world, we are considered to be leaders in this area."

The issue, however, isn’t limited to alien species invasion. Land use change, another key instigator of biodiversity loss, also needs immediate attention. 

“The other key driver of a lot of the loss on earth is the land use change and so that's been huge. In New Zealand, we've lost massive amounts of the native vegetation cover.”

Invasive species, land use change, and other threats to native biodiversity form a complex web that is difficult to untangle. 

“There will not be a single golden bullet in there. We have to tackle it on multiple fronts.”

While the battle against these invisible threats to our ecosystem seems overwhelming, it is not insurmountable. Every New Zealander, especially those who live on and off the land, has a crucial role to play. 

So, whether it’s about reporting new incursions, supporting political measures, or making biodiversity-friendly choices, every effort counts in preserving the unique splendour of Aotearoa’s biodiversity. After all, the battle against these alien invaders is, in essence, a battle for our own survival.

Listen to the full chat between Auckland University Professor Jacqueline Beggs and Dominic George above.

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