Says Prof. Bela Galil, a senior marine biologist who works as a researcher and curator at the Steinhardt Museum of Nature at Tel Aviv University. In addition, she was one of the three main authors of the chapter on "Effects of biological invasions on nature, nature's contribution to humanity and a good quality of life" in the report Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and System Services (IPBES) International
A new international report of Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and System Services (IPBES) points to the increasing danger of invasive species to biodiversity worldwide. Prof. Bela Galil from Tel Aviv University, one of the authors of the report, explains its main findings and their implications for Israel.
The report, which was based on a research effort of over 80 scientists over about 3.5 years, found that invasive alien species are responsible for 60% of the world's plant extinctions. The annual economic damage from them is estimated at over 400 billion dollars.
Today there are over 37 foreign species recorded in the world, and this number is growing at the rate of about 200 new species every year. More than 3,500 of them are invasive species that cause direct damage to nature and humans.
According to the report, invasive species are one of the five main causes of species extinction, along with overexploitation, climate change and pollution. However, future invasions can be prevented through strict enforcement of controls on the importation of alien species. Also, there is a need for efficient government bodies that will locate invasive species at an early stage and take measures to eradicate them.
One of the most prominent examples in Israel is the small fire ant, which arrived in a shipment of wood to the factory and quickly established itself in moist habitats. The ant causes acute allergic reactions and even life-threatening bites. Although it was known as a dangerous species back in the 90s, no measures were taken to stop its spread. If they had identified it early and smoked the shipment of wood, they might have prevented its extensive establishment in Israel.
Invasive bird species such as the minnow and the tern also cause a lot of damage. The species, which were initially imported as ornamental birds, crowd out and expel local species and damage their nests and chicks. Sparrows enter Israel on purpose as pets, and since their escape into the wild they multiply rapidly and damage both agricultural crops and other bird species. These cases show that there is a need for closer supervision of the importation of foreign species for ornamental and pet purposes.
Many invasive fish species also arrived on Israel's shores from the east, through the Suez Canal. A notable example is the poisonous Asian pogo fish, which has caused many hospitalizations. The Suez Canal is an important transition axis for the migration of species from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. During its 150 years of existence, it was expanded and deepened several times, in order to allow the passage of larger ships. These changes allowed the passage of larger volumes of water, as well as of many associated species from the Red Sea. Further expansion of the canal after a ship jammed in the canal which caused it to be blocked for many days is expected to further increase the movement of species to the western Mediterranean such as the migrating wireworm, and increase the threat to biodiversity in Israel and the Mediterranean Sea.
Most of the foreign species have been documented since the 70s, with the increased awareness of the danger and in the case of the eastern Mediterranean from the reopening of the Suez Canal following the peace agreement with Egypt. The situation is expected to worsen with the continued increased use of natural resources and climate change. The state auditor's report from 2022 points to the failure of the government ministries in dealing with the threat, and calls for the implementation of the auditor's recommendations to prevent future damage to both nature and the economy and the quality of life in Israel.
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