© Jamie K. Reaser

Putting the freeze on invasive alien species

1 October 2018

This article originally appeared in The Circle: Arctic biodiversity in the spotlight. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

Invasive alien species are one of the top drivers of biodiversity loss—and changes in the Arctic make it particularly vulnerable to biological invasion. As Jamie K. Reaser observes, we’ve reached a crossroads where we must make a choice: stop the spread of invasive alien species or live with the adverse consequences indefinitely.

No one travels alone. Throughout history, people have conveyed plants, animals, pathogens and parasites to other continents, sometimes intentionally, but often as hitchhikers. While some of these organisms have proven beneficial, a growing majority cause harm. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, invasive alien species are alien (non-native) species whose introduction and/or spread (into a novel ecosystem) threatens biological diversity. Invasive alien species may also affect our food, water, infrastructure, health and safety, cultural identities, livelihoods, economies and even military readiness.

Although there are notable invasive alien species already present in the Arctic—for example, American mink, European green crab and Nootka lupine are all altering Scandinavian ecosystems—the region is less affected than others. However, as the Arctic warms — with the attendant increase in resource extraction,
settlement and tourism—the risks posed by invasive alien species will grow substantially. These species will arrive in increasing numbers via shipping, horticulture, the escape or release of domestic animals, construction materials and equipment, recreational gear and numerous other pathways unless we take proactive action. We have a unique opportunity in the Arctic: there is still time to put the freeze on invasive alien species.

In 2013, the Arctic Council’s Arctic Biodiversity Assessment recognized the threat posed by invasive alien species to Arctic ecosystems, cultures and economies, and called for a strategy to address invasive alien species on a regional scale. In 2016, after more than a year of multinational negotiations, the Arctic Invasive Species (ARIAS) Strategy and Action Plan was adopted. Known simply as “ARIAS,” the plan sets out three goals and 15 priority actions to be implemented by Arctic Council governments and their partners at regional, national and subnational scales. The goals are:

  • To raise awareness of the unique opportunity that the Arctic Council and its partners have to inspire the urgent and effective action necessary to protect the Arctic from invasive alien species
  • To improve the capacity of the Arctic Council and its partners to make well-informed decisions on the needs, priorities and options for pre- venting, eradicating and controlling invasive alien species in the Arctic by improving the knowledge base
  • To protect Arctic ecosystems and human well-being by instituting prevention and early detection/rapid response programs for invasive spe-
    cies as a matter of priority.

An international team, the Arctic Council’s ARIAS Implementation Coor- dinating Group is turning the plan into region-wide projects and, ultimately, region-wide success. The group will be seeking partnerships with NGOs, industries, academic institutions, Indigenous peoples and local communities.

The future of the Arctic is a matter of human choice. We can learn from mistakes made elsewhere and take responsibility for our actions. We can limit the impact of invasive alien species. The question is, will we? Will you?

The ARIAS Strategy and Action Plan is available here.

Jamie K. Reaser is executive director of the US National Invasive Species Council. The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States government.