Alien Invasion: A recent study suggests alien species could pose a major threat to subterranean ecosystems and human economies. Despite global efforts to address the issue, data shows an exponential growth of alien species worldwide. The report, “Aliens in Caves: The Global Dimension of Biological Invasions in Subterranean Ecosystems,” examines how aliens affect these fragile and vulnerable ecosystems.
Giulio Nicolosi from the University of Turin led a research team to conduct the first systematic literature survey to uncover gaps in the distribution and spread of alien invertebrate species in subterranean habitats. To test if subterranean environments act as ecological filters for these newcomers, favoring those with pre-adaptive traits ideal for subterranean life.
This study identified 246 subterranean alien species belonging to 18 classes. Invertebrates, especially insects and arachnids, were the dominant alien group; most were reported in terrestrial subterranean habitats from all continents except Antarctica. Palaearctic and Nearctic biogeographic regions were the main sources of alien species introductions into recipient countries (84.3% cases for which there was available information).
Case studies have documented negative impacts in 22.7% of cases, mostly due to increased competition with native species. A few case studies (6.1%) mentioned management strategies but their effectiveness had never been quantified; consequently, information regarding costs is scarce.
According to the study, certain traits provide access to subterranean environments with strict environmental filters that make for successful establishment. The research team suggests that further investigations be done on invasiveness into subterranean habitats in order to increase public and scientific community awareness of the importance of protecting these fragile ecosystems.
The study emphasizes the critical need for effective management strategies to prevent alien species from spreading into subterranean habitats. The research team hopes their findings will spur further investigation and interventions to safeguard these unique and fragile ecosystems from alien threats.
The study’s results are especially concerning, as subterranean ecosystems are known for their strict abiotic and biotic characteristics that create an environmental filter that only permits certain introduced species with traits closely related to those of native organisms. Despite these constraints, records of alien species in subterranean habitats have increased in recent decades – underscoring the urgent need for further research and interventions to protect these delicate habitats.
This study provides insight into taxonomic biases, geographic patterns, modes of dispersal and pathways for alien species introductions into subterranean habitats. Invertebrates such as insects and arachnids were the dominant alien species found here; commercial activities were linked to their main routes into recipient countries.
Palaearctic and Nearctic biogeographic regions were identified as major sources for alien species introductions into subterranean environments – reinforcing the need for global efforts to address this issue.
Few case studies reported negative impacts, mostly due to increased competition with native species. While a few management strategies were reported in these same case studies, their effectiveness has not yet been quantified and costs remain unknown.
The study’s findings emphasize the significance of comprehending invasiveness into subterranean habitats and raising public and scientific community awareness about protecting these fragile ecosystems. With an increasing number of documented alien species present, immediate action must be taken to prevent their further spread and detrimental impacts on natural habitats as well as human economies.
In conclusion, this study provides valuable insights into the global scale of biological invasions in subterranean ecosystems and lays the groundwork for future management practices and interventions. The research team hopes their findings will spur further investigation and effective measures to safeguard these unique and vulnerable habitats from alien species threats.
Source: Nicolosi, G., Mammola, S., Verbrugge, L., & Isaia, M. (2023). Aliens in caves: the global dimension of biological invasions in subterranean ecosystems. Biological Reviews.
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