Environmental economist says invasive species is part of the price of doing business

February 14, 2009

When the sun rides low on the horizon and winter chills wrap us all in down and fleece, global trade brings blueberries from South America, oranges from Israel. But trade in exotic goods also comes with significant local economic costs, explains Charles Perrings, professor of environmental economics at Arizona State University.

In the rush to market, products also bring hitchhikers: invasive species. These exotics often overtake native species, ravage agriculture, fisheries and forestry, and damage ecosystems and, ultimately, economics. Disproportionately so in developing countries' economies, Perrings says. In a presentation at the Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting on Feb. 13, Perrings puts forward an issue that, he says, currently attracts more expenditures than any other environmental problem.

How can what seems like only a few zebra mussels and Mediterranean fruit flies (Medfly) have such a large economic effect? Besides obvious direct impacts of pathogens and losses to biodiversity, disrupted ecosystems also lose resilience, the ability to spring back from environmental challenges and human-based insults.

The numbers are staggering. Perrings, whose four-volume "Ecological Economics" has just been published, refers to one estimate that the annual economic damage due to invasive species is equal to 53 percent of agricultural GDP in the United States, 31 percent in the United Kingdom and 48 percent in Australia, but 96 percent, 78 percent and 112 percent of agricultural GDP in South Africa, India and Brazil, respectively.

What is the solution? In a nutshell: thinking locally and acting globally. According to Perrings' study "individual countries need to consider how to contain trade-related species dispersal and international cooperation needs to act to reduce the invasive species risks of trade - especially those stemming from poor country exports."

Perrings' studies in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University focus on the role of global drivers of biodiversity change, particularly trade in altering ecosystems services and in developing both institutional and policy responses. He and colleague Ann Kinzig, associate professor in ASU School of Life Sciences, direct the ecoSERVICES group in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. This group operates a number of international research programs, including "Advancing Conservation in a Social Context," funded by the MacArthur Foundation. The ecoSERVICES group concentrates on "the causes and consequences of change in ecosystem services - the benefits that people derive from the biophysical environment - and analyzes biodiversity change in terms of its impacts on the things that people care about."

Most recently, a group of researchers from ecoSERVICES, in partnership with the Civil and Environmental Engineering Departments at ASU, were awarded a $2 million grant by the National Science Foundation. The Sustainable Infrastructure for Water and Energy Supply (SINEWS) project will examine the resilience and sustainability of power and water infrastructures in semi-arid urban settings.

"The principle challenge to building a science of sustainability is the development of predictive models of systems change that enable society to evaluate mitigation options alongside adaptation," says Perrings.

The economic problems posed by invasive species, he believes, will require "measures to 'internalize' the external costs of trade - to confront exporters and importers with the true cost of their actions.

"But, it also requires defensive measures to mitigate import risks, to control established invasive species, and to coordinate international action to regulate trade routes," Perrings adds. "This problem is particularly difficult to contend with in low income countries. They are vulnerable to the effects of invasive species, but also have fewer resources to adopt effective sanitary or other control measures."

What could these insights mean on one's own home turf? The recent move to buy locally, combined with well regulated imports might come with an added pay-off to the pocket book, as well carbon foot print: healthier ecosystems.

Source: Arizona State University

Explore further: Research using CO2 keeps even small fry invasive carp at bay

Related Stories

Research using CO2 keeps even small fry invasive carp at bay

November 18, 2015

University of Illinois researcher Cory Suski has already shown that bubbling high concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) into water is a deterrent to invasive Asian carp adults. The gas makes them feel 'woozy' and they choose ...

Gene drive reversibility introduces new layer of biosafety

November 16, 2015

In parallel with their development of the first synthetic gene drives - which greatly increase the chance a specific gene will be passed on to all offspring - George Church, Ph.D., and Kevin Esvelt, Ph.D., helped pioneer ...

Recommended for you

Can Paris pledges avert severe climate change?

November 26, 2015

More than 190 countries are meeting in Paris next week to create a durable framework for addressing climate change and to implement a process to reduce greenhouse gases over time. A key part of this agreement would be the ...

Revealing glacier flow with animated satellite images

November 26, 2015

Frank Paul, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, has created animations from satellite images of the Karakoram mountain range in Asia to show how its glaciers flow and change. The images of four different ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.