The damage caused by non-native species like Japanese Knotweed, the Harlequin ladybird, and mink, threaten global biodiversity and cost global economies US$1.4 trillion annually. They can transmit disease, choke river systems and wells, prevent cattle from grazing, and out-compete or eat native species. We’re trying to understand the complex ways that these species are introduced, e.g. through horticulture, and damage resident species.
We try to improve forecasts of invasive species worldwide, using information on global trade patterns and species ecology. For example, we’ve found that invasions threaten the last remaining biodiversity strongholds in the world’s most fragile economies. Even widespread invaders still have much further to spread. Some of the worst invaders are crop pests like the Fall armyworm, and we’ve been helping international pest management agencies to predict the global range and migration of this devastating moth.
Figure 1. Potential global distribution of the fall armyworm. (Regan et al. 2018)
A huge problem in forecasting is whether species behave abroad in the same way they do at home. Take the case of the famous British tourist. A Ryanair flight to Benidorm seems capable of turning the most shy and retiring Brit into a rampant force of nature, carousing bawdily into the small hours. The same happens with species we’ve introduced around the world. Many now live in places with climate that is completely different to where they come from. We see the same phenomenon happening over thousands of years. For example, fossil data tell us that African trees used to live in warmer conditions than they do now. We’re asking why this happens, and how we can account for it.