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Biological invasions can be handled as natural disasters

By Tamara Croes - 03 Apr 2011 10:54:0 GMT
Biological invasions can be handled as natural disasters

In the most recent (April 2011) issue of BioScience, three scientists, A. Ricciardi, M. E. Palmer and N.D.Yan, argue that biological invasions should be treated as natural disasters. The authors of the article state that although biological invasions can sometimes lead to much more long-term economical damage than natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, they are not treated in the same way.

Natural disasters are relatively rare occurrences, but nevertheless many countries which have occasionally had experience with them might prepare themselves for a next occurrence. For instance, the US and many islands in the Caribbean have some kind of hurricane preparedness program in place. Shelters have been created and appointed, people have been trained how to act, there is a warning system in place, there is maybe an interdisciplinary Hurricane Centre or National Committee. The moment the disaster actually occurs, everything springs into action. The disaster itself cannot be prevented, but the results can be mitigated by prevention.

This is not the case at all for biological invasions, according to the authors of the article. There is no training course to be found for how to handle biological invasions, or national programs on how to deal with one, or interdisciplinary committees. Yet it is a persistent problem which has been more and more in the news in recent decades.

Attention is focused on invasions of pathogens which can be a lethal threat to humans, such as avian influenza, mad cow disease and West Nile virus. But some other invasions which are no direct threat to human lives can have devastating economic effects. An example of this is the invasion of the zebra and quagga mussels in US waters.

The authors point out that biological invasions are difficult to predict and difficult to control and show to some degree dynamics similar to other disasters. Contrary to many other disasters, however, the economic impact of biological invasions may take a long time to become noticeable. Therefore measures are often taken too late to prevent the spread of the invasion.  The authors argue in favour of national and international preparedness for biological invasions, just as is now the case for natural disasters.

Source BioScience, April 2011. “Should Biological Invasions be Managed as Natural Disasters?” Anthony Ricciardi, Michelle E. Palmer, Norman D. Yan.