Background

B.1  General background

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) designated invasive alien species (IAS), alongside climate change, habitat destruction, pollution and overexploitation, as one of the main causes of global biodiversity loss. Alien (or non-native, non-indigenous, foreign, exotic, introduced) species (AS) are defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as “a species, subspecies or lower taxon (such as a variety, race, provenance or stock), introduced outside its natural past or present distribution, which includes any part, gametes, seeds, eggs, or propagules of such species that might survive and subsequently reproduce” where  “introduction" refers to the movement by human agency, indirect or direct, of an alien species outside of its natural (past or present)  range (COP 6, decision VI/23) and invasive alien species (IAS) as “an alien species whose introduction and/or spread threaten biological diversity” (COP 6, decision VI/23).  This COST Action will align to these definitions but extend the concept of an IAS to include threats to society, the economy and acknowledge that the threat IAS pose to biological diversity has far-reaching consequences, including threatening species that are crucial to the delivery of ecosystem services.

 

Alien species, and particularly the subset that are considered invasive, have received increasing attention in recent years. Alien species (AS) are being introduced into Europe at unprecedented and unpredictable rates and those that become invasive are known to be one of the greatest threats to biodiversity by decreasing the uniqueness of ecosystems at a genetic, functional and taxonomical level. The Guiding Principles of the CBD advocate a three-tiered approach (prevention, eradication and control) which is widely adopted across the globe. It is recognised that an important first step in developing a strategy for addressing the problems posed by IAS is to document the AS already present in regions, as well as those likely to arrive (either because they have been introduced into a adjacent region, or are spread by an existing vector/pathway).

 

There are a number of international agreements which recognise the negative effects of IAS and reflect the growing concerns of many people. For example, European countries now have obligations in relation to alien species and must: “strictly control the introduction of non-indigenous species” (Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife & Natural Habitats) and “eradicate those alien species which threaten ecosystems, habitats or species” (UN Convention on Biological Diversity). Many countries across Europe have developed strategies in relation to IAS and there is a move to consider these through a unified European-wide approach. The European Commission has formally recognised the urgent need to tackle invasions ('Towards an EU Strategy on Invasive Species' (COM (2008) 789 final) committing to develop a policy on the issue and establish an early warning system. For example, the European Parliament resolution of 20 April 2012 on our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 (2011/2307(INI)), explicitly “Urges the Commission to come forward in 2012 with a legislative proposal which takes a holistic approach to the problem of invasive alien plant and animal species in order to establish a common EU policy on the prevention, monitoring, eradication and management of these species and on rapid alert systems in this area”. Indeed the European Commission is developing a comprehensive legal instrument to combat IAS and the problems they cause. It is essential that such a policy instrument is underpinned by easily accessible, high quality, comprehensive information. A comprehensive approach, including all AS, is crucial to ensure predictive elements such as early warning and horizon scanning at the regional scale.

 

Information on AS is currently scattered across Europe in a multitude of sources, such as regional and national databases, peer-reviewed and grey literature, unpublished research projects or institutional datasets and with taxonomic experts. There have been recent efforts to consolidate information into centralised European (DAISIE), regional (e.g. NOBANIS, REABIC, ESENIAS, MAMIAS, the Baltic Sea alien species database) and national (e.g. Britain, Vojvodina) on-line databases. Attempts to fill in regional gaps are also being undertaken, for example by establishing dedicated networks such as ESENIAS (Western Balkan countries) and MAMIAS (Marine Mediterranean). Additionally, a number of tools and resources are being developed within national and regional initiatives linked to citizen science (an example is NatureWatch, a recent Eye on Earth initiative led by the European Environment Agency for a ‘global public information service’ aimed at creating and sharing environmental information).  A major aim of this COST Action will be to harmonise the information in existing AS databases (building on best practices such as those established through complimentary initiatives, e.g. FP7 project VECTORS), explore undiscovered sources of information, and identify the needs and formats for AS information by different user groups and for the implementation of early warning tools and a rapid response system.  The COST Action will explore the use of social media (such as Twitter and FaceBook) as mechanisms to engage people in surveillance and monitoring.

 

The establishment of common exchange standards and harmonisation of terminology requires both extensive discussion for their establishment and training for their adoption.  The networking activities that could be facilitated through the COST Action would be extremely beneficial to implementing IAS strategy and research.  Advantages would include the opportunity for regular meetings coupled with delivery of training workshops to ensure progression towards a harmonised European information system for AS coupled with innovative research tools that would enable early warning and rapid response.  Additional synergistic collaborations with European and Global initiatives will enhance the outcomes of this COST Action.  Indeed the success of EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy depends on international cooperation and concerted action.  This COST Action has the potential to achieve the expected results, designing and implementing innovative and cost effective solutions that are adapted to the requirements set by the legislative and strategic needs.

B.2   Current state of knowledge

At the ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (meeting in Bonn, 2008) Parties were invited 'to collaborate on the development and use of early warning systems, including networks of focal points, and on the development and use of rapid response mechanisms' (Decision IX/4 In-depth review of ongoing work on AS that threaten ecosystems, habitats or species).  Additionally, the need to develop effective global early warning and rapid response systems has also been stated as a priority action in the ' Syracuse Charter ' on biodiversity, adopted at the G8 Environment Ministers Meeting (Syracuse - Italy, 2009). The European capacity to detect and react promptly to new invasions is often limited. Measures to prevent either unwanted introductions or the spread of already established AS through cross-border activities are rarely applied and new entries are often detected or revealed only when effective response is no longer feasible.  The need to improve the ability to detect and report new incursions of AS into Europe promptly is widely recognised by policy-makers, statutory bodies, researchers and many other stakeholders.  Underpinning this is the need to establish effective pan-European information systems for sharing AS information with neighbouring countries (EU and beyond), trading partners and regions with similar ecosystems, particularly those of high conservation status (Special Areas of Conservation and hotspots of unique diversity such as Macaronesian islands), to facilitate identification, early warning and coordination of prevention, mitigation and restoration measures.   Such an information system should assist in locating, documenting and providing electronic access to sources of information, provide quality control and ensure controlled, agreed and shared (harmonised) terminology. A pan-European system, which includes all AS, and not just the invasive component, is critical because AS can become IAS in time. Ultimately this will ensure production of timely and reliable risk assessments aligned with effective management responses which are enacted promptly wherever needed.

 

This COST proposal is innovative in multiple aspects:

Access to distributed information sources. Maximising links between existing information systems and primarily focusing on establishing a network of expert networks to deliver interoperable IAS data services through the mandatory use of existing data exchange standards and protocols such as Darwin Core for purpose of IAS. Such service would complement but not replace existing systems. Collaboration with LifeWatch (www.lifewatch.eu), a project on the ESFRI (European Strategic Framework for Research Infrastructures) Roadmap, and FP7 project “EU BON: Building the European Biodiversity Observation Network”, will contribute to development of this network.  Workshops will be essential to building these networks and developing good practice which can be implemented through collaboration with EASIN.

Georeferenced species occurrence data. Georeferenced species occurrence records can be retrieved from available information systems, such as national AS databases (e.g. Britain and Ireland), open-access journal supplements (e.g. Aquatic Invasions, BioInvasions Records, NeoBiota) and other databases (e.g. DAISIE, GISD, Nobanis, GBIF, Invasive Species Compendium (ISC), Fishbase, BioFresh, REABIC, VECTORS, ATLANTIS –Azores and Canaries). This COST Action will cover existing AS databases and other information sources, allowing exploration of the data at multiple spatial levels (site, catchment, country) building on best practice established through projects such as VECTORS and EASIN.  Additionally this COST ACTION will explore mechanisms for integrating data collated through citizen science initiatives (e.g. NatureWatch of Eye on Earth). 

Global scanning. Facilitation of  linkages with existing global information systems, such as the IUCN, GISD, ISC and IUCN Red list. Participants will engage with initiatives driven through the Convention on Biological Diversity addressing Aichi Biodiversity Target 9.

User-oriented services. Inclusion of multiple user groups, from scientists to policy-makers, will support the concept of a highly interactive discovery, identification, querying, mapping and processing services for AS data. For example, an important output would be the establishment of the practicalities of an alert system for new introductions to be used by competent authorities to be informed and take prompt actions toward (potentially) harmful alien species.

Analysis and interpretation.  Analytical techniques will be delivered for addressing key questions in relation to pathways of arrival and impacts (critical areas of relevance to users such as the EC).  These analyses will help to determine information gaps critical to delivering early warning and rapid response.

 

B.3   Reasons for the Action

There are a range of international projects and research initiatives collating information on AS but many of these focus only on IAS (the subset of AS that on introduction and/or spread threaten biological diversity, society and the economy).  A broad approach including all AS is essential for providing context and enhancing understanding of invasions to allow for early warning and mitigation because AS have the potential to become IAS.  The interdisciplinary approach of the COST Action makes it ideally placed for a Trans-Domain proposal.  Deliverables from the COST Action will be cross-cutting and involve theoretical and applied understanding of invasion biology coupled with delivery of outputs through information and communication technologies, ultimately enhancing early warning and rapid response capability.  The interactions between Domains will ensure a holistic and inclusive approach.

B.4   Complementarity with other research programmes (if appropriate)

This COST Action would support the LifeWatch framework and build on EU FP6 and FP7 programmes including projects such as EPIDEMIE, DAISIE, PRATIQUE, IMPASSE, VECTORS, ALARM, CHAOS, EnviroGRIDS, ISEFOR and BioFresh,  integrating with the NOBANIS, NEOBIOTA, ESENIAS, ERNAIS, the Baltic Sea Alien Species Database and other networks. It will also enable interoperability of these European information systems with global tools such as the Invasive Species Compendium (ISC) and the Global Invasive Species Database (GISD) of the IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group and the IUCN Red List.  Moreover, relevant EU directives and agreements, such as Charter on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biological Diversity in European Islands will assist in prioritization.