A new database will help develop strategies to address global spread of invasive species, writes Jamey Bergman
A global operation is underway to address the threat of invasive species – including those carried in shipping ballast water – and the weapons of choice are data-driven checklists.
Scientists from countries and organisations around the world are contributing to create the Global Register of Introduced and Invasive Species (GRIIS), a centralised, open and country-specific database of the organisms wreaking havoc on ecosystems everywhere.
A paper published in the scientific journal Nature in January 2018 (http://bit.ly/BWTT-GRIIS) offered a detailed description of the data behind GRIIS and included its first 23 “exemplar” checklists. The checklists house more than 11,000 records on introduced and invasive species with environmental impact assessments present for more than 20% of these. It named “cross-border trade and transport” as the “principal driver of new species introductions.”
The GRIIS database uses a series of country-specific checklists to help governments build a foundation of verified data for use in developing national strategies to combat invasive species, according to the authors of a paper detailing the project.
Prof Melodie McGeoch of Australia’s Monash University and Shyama Pagad, programme officer for the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Invasive Species Specialist Group, based at New Zealand’s University of Auckland, are two of five contributors to the paper. Writing on Nature’s blog, they said invasive species are harming ecosystems in every country and on every continent, and that knowing which species are where is the first step in limiting or reversing that damage.
“The [GRIIS] register provides a missing piece of the puzzle that we hope will make monitoring and managing the threat to the environment from invasive species more effective,” they wrote.
The team’s paper says that GRIIS provides significant support for national governments to identify and prioritise invasive alien species, establishing both national and global baselines. They say these baselines will enable a global system for monitoring trends in invasive species invasions by providing “open and readily accessible inventories of species that have become naturalised or invasive in countries outside of their historic ranges – with global coverage and across taxa.”
GRIIS is “a major step forward in the delivery of information needed to effectively deal with the problem of biological invasions,” Prof McGeoch said in a related statement. “It was designed to facilitate transparent, repeatable information on invasions.”
But the exercise of identifying the origins and tracking the invasion pathways becomes more complex for invasive organisms introduced through ballast water discharges or through biofouling on the hulls of merchant ships, according to Colette O’Flynn, GRIIS country editor and invasive species officer for Ireland’s National Biodiversity Data Centre.
“For something to be assigned as invasive, first it must be non-native to your area. So it wouldn’t actually be found there: it’s only there because of human intervention,” Ms Flynn explained in an interview with BWTT. “But with many marine species, we don’t know what is native or non-native. They’re often termed what we call cryptogenic: their origin is unknown. Sometimes there is obscurity with tagging marine species as non-native or invasive just because of not being sure of their origin,” she said.
Comparing marine, freshwater and terrestrial waters, “marine is the one we know least about invasive species, just because of the difficulties involved with studying them and in understanding where they originate from.”
Ms O’Flynn said the “good thing” about IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention, in theory, is that it offers comprehensive coverage of the introduction of non-native and potentially invasive species in its sanitisation requirements for ballast water. “It does not matter if [species in ballast water] were to be native or non-native, or what the origin was. The idea behind it is that it will treat all that water to reduce any potential risk,” she said.
Ireland is one of the countries whose data has been collated into an exemplar checklist that can be used as a template for other countries to follow. Ms O’Flynn said being on the leading edge of developing a national GRIIS checklist gave Ireland an advantage in the fight against marine invasive species.
“We know so much about certain species in Ireland that we know our hull-fouling species and our ballast species, based on data from other countries as well as here. But, of course, for a species recorded in the marine environment, we can never be sure how exactly it got there. You can only kind of conjecture, really,” she said.
“If it’s known to be a species that’s a hull-fouling species, you can guess that it got here because there are ships or boats in the area. If it’s known to be found in ballast water you can say, ‘well we probably have it here because ballast water is discharged in this area.’”
That is why these international databases – and even European or regional ones – are helpful, she explained. “You can learn from others’ experiences of dealing with specific invasive species. So GRIIS does help in assessing the risk.”
With the initial rollout of the 20 exemplar checklists complete, there are more on the horizon, according to the researchers. “Close to all countries globally will be submitted through the same process shortly,” the paper predicts.
Overall, more than 200 GRIIS checklists are being generated and the data for 198 countries will be available via the GRIIS website and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) website on a rolling basis. But even though the database is far from complete, Ms O’Flynn said its global potential could not be emphasised strongly enough.
“It’s a work in progress and the potential is fantastic,” she said. “It will continue to be more valuable as more countries add more information to it.”
One of the most important possibilities the database offers is its potential use as a tool to help policy-makers craft response strategies to non-native species invasions of ecosystems around the world.
As Ms O’Flynn put it, “Only by properly being able to assess risk can we then have better-informed decision-making on policies and measures to be taken to prevent further introduction or spread of invasive species.”
Could GRIIS help shape international policy at IMO?
The purpose of GRIIS, its researchers say, is to help countries monitor and report on biological invasions in order to allow them to prioritise interventions.
As one of the GRIIS paper’s co-authors Piero Genovesi said, “GRIIS provides credible, authoritative and peer-reviewed information on introduced species. By fully understanding the issue, governments can use the checklists to inform effective decision-making and prioritise problem species to tackle first.”
But that prioritisation process, in theory, should also allow countries to progress towards achieving globally agreed targets on biodiversity.
As chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG), Dr Genovesi and his group have played a significant role in creating GRIIS. His group is already using data included in the GRIIS database to advise IMO.
The ISSG website lists, among its activities, “providing technical and scientific advice to IUCN members in their work on invasive species especially in international fora (e.g. International Maritime Organization).”
With IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention a focal point for the implementation of Aichi Target 9 (see box), GRIIS could continue to prove useful for international bodies and their constituent national government representatives both in dealing with the threat of invasive species and in working together to meet the targets agreed by signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
According to IMO, Dr Genovesi’s group is likely to partner with IMO, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) on future multilateral capacity-building projects aimed at reducing the ingress of invasive species.
These projects will fall under the GloFouling Partnerships Project, launched in mid-2017 to focus on implementation of IMO’s Guidelines for the control and management of ships’ biofouling.
“From the GloFouling Project perspective, yes, IMO as the executing agency plans to collaborate with the IUCN – and this is likely to be involving IUCN as a strategic partner,” IMO told BWTT in a statement. “Areas of collaboration could [include] decision-support tools such as the GRIIS, among others.”
How GRIIS factors into IMO work on Aichi targets
Data from GRIIS feeds into national Clearing House Mechanisms (CHMs) under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) via the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) to meet biodiversity targets set out in the UN’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which was adopted in 2010 in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture.
It specifically linked its plan to IMO’s work by suggesting that “Actions to implement the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, a convention adopted through the International Maritime Organization which seeks to prevent the spread of organisms carried in ships’ ballast water, could also help to achieve progress towards this target.”
With IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention viewed as a focus of the implementation of Aichi Target 9, GRIIS could be helpful for international bodies as well as national governments in dealing with the threat of invasive species, and in working together to meet the targets agreed by signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
A second area where GRIIS is likely to play a role in IMO activities is the GloFouling Partnerships Project, launched by IMO in mid-2017.
That project will focus on implementing the IMO guidelines for the control and management of ships’ biofouling, which provide guidance on how biofouling should be controlled and managed to reduce the transfer of invasive aquatic species.
Aichi Target 9
By 2020, invasive alien species and pathways are identified and prioritised, priority species are controlled or eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment.
[END SUB BOX]
Case studies show the scale of the problem
A statement in January by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) highlighted the socio-economic and environmental impact of invasive species using the case of the water hyacinth. The species, which is native to South America, is spreading across Africa, Asia, Oceania and North America, limiting oxygen and sunlight in ports and rivers, the group says.
“The infestations have impacted fish levels, blocked navigation routes, increased disease and affected access to water by reducing hydropower capacity. It is important to effectively monitor and control species movement to reduce these types of scenarios for the future,” the group cautioned.
In one case study in the United Arab Emirates, implementing GRIIS led to the identification of 258 established alien species – only 146 which had been previously identified. When the data was verified, UAE authorities prioritised 57 alien species for intervention.
The IUCN Global Invasive Species Database provides additional information on over 850 invasive alien species, specifying their impact, pathways of introduction and management measures. This information can build on the knowledge from the GRIIS database, helping countries develop measures that prevent the introduction of invasive alien species and manage any impact from already introduced species.