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Integrative Zoology 2010; 5: 102-111 doi: 10.1111/j.1749-4877.2010.00193.


Climate change and invasive species: double jeopardy

Susan A. MAINKA1 and Geoffrey W. HOWARD2

Science and Learning Unit, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Gland, Switzerland and 2Regional Office for Eastern and
Southern Africa, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Nairobi, Kenya

Two of the key drivers of biodiversity loss today are climate change and invasive species. Climate change is already
having a measurable impact on species distributions, reproduction and behavior, and all evidence suggests that
things will get worse even if we act tomorrow to mitigate any future increases in greenhouse gas emissions:
temperature will increase, precipitation will change, sea level will rise and ocean chemistry will change. At the same
time, biological invasions remain an important threat to biodiversity, causing species loss, changes in distribution
and habitat degradation. Acting together, the impacts of each of these drivers of change are compounded and
interactions between these two threats present even greater challenges to field conservationists as well as policy-
makers. Similarly, the social and economic impacts of climate change and invasive species, already substantial, will
be magnified. Awareness of the links between the two should underpin all biodiversity management planning and
Key words: climate change, ecosystem management, invasive species.

CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS ON the potential breeding distribution of most of Europe’s

breeding birds will shift several hundred kilometers north.
BIODIVERSITY In addition, extirpations (local extinctions) and extinctions
Climate is changing nature before our eyes. Species of amphibians have been linked with climate change (Ron
distributions, demography, and even their life histories et al. 2003; Burrowes et al. 2004; Pounds et al. 2006). Cold-
are changing as previously reliable seasons are no longer blooded species such as reptiles are also projected to fare
so predictable. A review was carried out of 1700 species poorly in a warming world (Kearney et al. 2009).
range shifts, showing an average 6.1 km movement per Marine fishes are predicted to be affected by rising
decade towards the poles, and spring events advancing water temperatures, which will change oxygen levels in
by 2.3 days per decade (Parmesan et al. 2003). This con- the world’s oceans (Poertner & Knust 2007). Vaquer-
firmed the growing evidence that climate is already chang- Sunyer and Duarte (2008) report on impacts of decreasing
ing our natural world. Similarly, the Climatic Atlas of Eu- oxygen in marine environments, concluding that thresh-
ropean Breeding Birds (Huntley et al. 2007) reports that olds of vulnerability to hypoxia vary greatly across ma-
rine species. In addition, increasing carbon dioxide is rais-
ing the acidity of the oceans, with severe impacts on some
marine communities, especially those taxa with skeletons
Correspondence: Susan A. Mainka, International Union for based on calcium carbonate.
Conservation of Nature, rue Mauverney 28, CH1196 Gland, In short, climate change will affect the distribution of
Switzerland. species, their demography and their life histories. These
Email: changes will have consequences for human livelihoods,

102 © 2010 ISZS, Blackwell Publishing and IOZ/CAS

Climate change and invasive species

including changing the distribution patterns of human in availability of light, air, food, shelter and breeding sites
disease and the spread of pest and weed infestations. or of services such as pollination (Moroñ et al. 2009). For
Climate change impacts on species are not distributed birds, Butchart (2008) notes that biological invasions
equally across the spectrum of life, either taxonomically or threaten birds in many ways, including predation on adults,
geographically. Foden et al. (2008) propose a set of char- reproductive stress through predation on eggs or chicks,
acteristics that would make a species more vulnerable to and habitat degradation (particularly by invasive herbi-
climate change. These include species with: vores or invasive plants). As a result of these impacts,
specialized habitat and/or microhabitat requirements biological invasions are an important threat to biodiversity
and ecosystem services; they are considered 1 of the 5
narrow environmental tolerances or thresholds that are
major threats to ecosystem integrity by Millennium Eco-
likely to be exceeded due to climate change at any stage
system Assessment (2005).
in the life cycle
Baillie et al. (2004) report biological invasions as a ma-
dependence on specific environmental triggers or cues
jor threat faced by 11% of threatened amphibian species
that are likely to be disrupted by climate change
and 8% of threatened mammals for which data are
dependence on interspecific interactions which are likely
available. They also note that island species are particu-
to be disrupted by climate change
larly susceptible, noting that 67% of threatened birds on
poor ability or limited opportunity to disperse to, or oceanic islands are affected by invasives, compared to
colonize, a new or more suitable range 8% of continental birds. Darwall et al. (2008) report that
This list shows that those species with the highest spe- 85% of threatened fish in southern Africa, 55% of threat-
cializations in terms of lifestyle or location are typically ened freshwater fish in Europe and just under 45% of threat-
most at risk. Using these characteristics, the International ened freshwater fish in Madagascar are affected by inva-
Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Sur- sive species, the latter largely as a result of implementing
vival Commission, a global network of species conserva- a plan to re-establish local fisheries by introducing 24 non-
tion experts, assessed selected taxa (birds, amphibians native fish species (Benstead et al. 2003). Butchart (2008)
and corals) for their vulnerability to climate change and, reports that the one-third of threatened bird species threat-
therefore, potential increased risk of extinction (IUCN 2009). ened by invasive species are at risk largely through pre-
They report that: dation by carnivores and rodents.
35, 52 and 71% of birds, amphibians and corals, Characteristics that define invasive potential include
respectively, have traits that render them particularly both factors intrinsic to the invading species as well as
susceptible to climate change impacts the habitat to be invaded. Howard and Ziller (2008) list
70–80% of birds, amphibians and corals that are already factors for invading plants, and we have added those for
threatened are also “climate-change-susceptible.” animals, such as:
rapid growth rate
IMPACTS OF BIOLOGICAL INVASIONS ability to grow well and reproduce in dry or otherwise
adverse conditions (have broad environmental
Biological invasions occur when a species is introduced having many and well-protected fruits and seeds (high
to a habitat or ecosystem where it is not native and then yielding plant species)
becomes established, spreads and causes damage to having high rates of reproductive success and rearing
biodiversity, human development or human health. Spe- young or independent larval (and other immature stage)
cies that bring about these biological invasions and the survival (vertebrates and invertebrates)
associated changes in the habitat are termed “invasive
producing fruit and seeds (or other plant propagules)
species.” The Invasive Species Specialist Group of IUCN
early in their growth and development for plants, and
has developed the Global Invasive Species Database and
breeding early in development for animals
has also identified a list of 100 of the world’s worst inva-
ability to disperse widely through wind or water or by
sive alien species (IUCN 2010).
animals that feed on them or carry their propagules (for
Invasive species can cause biodiversity loss, changes
in water chemistry, altered biogeochemical processes,
effective competition with other plants and animals.
hydrological modifications and altered food webs
(Ehrenfeld 2003; Dukes & Mooney 2004) as well as changes Predicting potential invasiveness of any individual spe-

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S. A. Mainka and G. Howard

cies can be an uncertain process because invasions can factors promoting Maesopsis invasion. The impacts can
be confounded by issues of timing and change (Baskin be both direct, on survival of a species in question, and/or
2002). In fact, the biological invasion process is always a indirect in terms of influence on other factors such as pest
combination of the characteristic of the introduced spe- or prey species. For example, one of the impacts of cli-
cies and the “reactions” of the invaded ecosystem. mate/invasives interaction noted recently was decreased
Nevertheless, numerous decision-support tools have been numbers of grizzly bears (Peacook 2009), hypothesized to
developed to help assess potential invasiveness of species, be a result of decreasing availability of the nuts of whitebark
including Pheloung et al. (1999), Jefferson et al. (2004) pine which provide an important autumn food source for
and Gordon et al. (2008). the bears (Perkins & Roberts 2003). Similarly, Dukes et al.
(2009) note that climate change will directly affect trees in
Acting together, climate and invasions northeastern North America, as well as influence the im-
The traits of species that make them invasive (i.e. abil- pact of associated pest and pathogen species in those
ity to survive in adverse conditions, rapid growth rates forests. Currently, most examples of species’ range ex-
and wide dispersal) will often help them succeed in com- pansions in response to climate change are terrestrial (see
petition with native species under climate change. Condi- Root et al. 2003; Roura-Pascual et al. 2004; Parmesan &
tions that facilitate invasion that might be created by cli- Yohe 2006; Sugiura 2009) or from freshwater, as in the
mate change can be viewed from several perspectives. northward movement of water hyacinth (Eichhornia
Hellman et al. (2008) consider the stages of the invasion crassipes (Mart.) Solms) in Europe (S. Brunel, pers. comm.).
pathway and identify the following mechanisms: (i) altered Some invasive species do not require climate change to
transport and introduction mechanisms; (ii) establishment damage ecosystems, yet climate change might exacerbate
of new invasive species; (iii) altered impact of existing the damage they do cause. Two examples of invasive spe-
invasive species; (iv) altered distribution of existing inva- cies that alter the invaded ecosystem even without cli-
sive species; and (v) altered effectiveness of control mate change are the common carp (Cyprinus carpio L.,
strategies. Another perspective, as discussed in the 1758) and salt cedar (Tamarix ramosissima Ledeb). The
present paper, is to consider the changes in the environ- common carp, native to Asia, decreases water quality (by
ment that would have an impact on species survival. These increasing turbidity) and destroys viable nesting and feed-
include changes in temperature (terrestrial and marine), ing habitat for other desirable species of fish in other parts
precipitation, chemistry (terrestrial and marine), ocean cir- of the world, while the drought tolerant and deep-rooted
culation and sea levels (see examples in Table 1). Climate salt cedar, native to Eurasia, dominates riparian forests
change also tests the adaptive capacity of native species that were once dominated by cottonwoods and willows in
through these changes to their environment, making it North America (Kolar & Lodge 2000; Lite & Stromberg
difficult for native species to survive, allowing invaders 2005; Charles & Dukes 2007). Climate change might have
to take over empty niches, or compromising the native positive feedbacks for both of these invading species if
species’ ability to compete against hardy generalist waters warm in the mid-western and northern USA and if
invaders. From a Darwinian perspective, the characteris- south-western USA experiences more frequent droughts,
tics of many invasive species promote their survival and, leading to an increase in the amount of suitable habitat to
thereby, natural selection for these characteristics in fu- invade (Seager et al. 2007). This interaction between cli-
ture generations. However, in some cases, the interaction mate change and invasive species may intensify ecosys-
between climate change and invasive species might not tem effects and possibly increase the spatial extent of these
be in favor of the invader, as in the case of some invasive effects. A potential positive effect from increased inva-
coldwater species (Rahel & Olden 2008). Nevertheless, sive species is, in some cases, promotion of carbon se-
acting together, climate change and invasive species can questration by those species (Wardle et al. 2007).
put many native species in situations beyond their ability In addition to highlighting the interaction across cli-
to successfully compete. mate change and invasive species, these examples also
As early as 1993, climate/invasive species interactions illustrate that:
were noted by Binggeli and Hamilton (1993), who specu- Climate change can turn a native species into an in-
lated that climate change played a role in the spread of the vader (Mueller & Hellmann 2008) in its native habitat
alien tree Maesopsis eminii Engl. in the East Usumbara by altering that habitat such that it is exotic to its origi-
mountain forests, Tanzania. They cite temperature changes, nal ecosystem situation,
extremes of precipitation and decreased mist as potential Climate change can affect many aspects of an invading

104 © 2010 ISZS, Blackwell Publishing and IOZ/CAS

Climate change and invasive species

species including distribution, speed of dispersal, and Both climate change and invasive species are economi-
life history. cally important threats. In a report on the economics of
climate change (Stern 2006), the costs of climate change
Climate change, invasive species and human were estimated to be 5% of global GDP per year. In terms
well-being of human impact, the Global Humanitarian Forum estimates
that 90% of these losses will be mainly in South and South-

Table 1 Examples of climate change influences on invasiveness of species

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S. A. Mainka and G. Howard

East Asia and Africa plus the Middle East (Global Hu- cies while also providing the potential to control invasive
manitarian Forum 2009). species through support of expert cultural practitioners
The estimated annual damage from invasive species who incorporate weeding of invasive species into day-to-
worldwide totals more than $1.4tn: 5% of the global day resource management activity (Ticktin et al. 2006).
economy (Pimentel et al. 2001). The cost to African na- However, implementing an invasive species management
tions of the control of invasions is an estimated $US60m program can also disrupt traditional management practices
per year (Chenje & Mohammed-Katerere 2002). Costs in- (Hanson 2004). Clearly, any program to manage impacts
clude not only direct management costs like prevention, of climate change and invasive species will need to be
eradication and mitigation of invasive species, but also developed in consideration of not only environmental
indirect costs of loss of ecosystem services, such as clean needs, but also social and economic needs.
water, plant products and decreased ecotourism revenues.
Strategic and prioritized management of invasive species Measures that need to be taken
is essential and urgent, especially given the limited re- Biodiversity can play a role in mitigating the impacts of
sources available. climate change and supporting adaptation. However, in-
Loss of habitat and biodiversity resulting from the in- vasive species have the potential to compound the im-
teraction of climate change and invasive species will add pacts of climate change on biodiversity and adversely af-
to these costs while also contributing to increased vul- fect biodiversity’s potential to play this role. Conversely,
nerability of rural communities whose livelihoods and taking measures to prevent or control invasive species
household incomes are derived, either directly or indirectly, can enhance an ecosystem’s resilience to climate change.
from natural products. For example, climate change, and Therefore, actions should be taken to ensure that the com-
the associated temperature and ozone changes, can alter bined impacts of climate change and invasives are elimi-
the invasive capabilities of pests of common agricultural nated or minimized while enhancing the resilience of eco-
and horticultural crops (Kiritani 2007; Booker et al. 2009; systems to support mitigation and adaptation.
Jaramillo et al. 2009). Loss of habitat and biodiversity also
poses a threat to wildlife-based tourism, therefore affect- Improved understanding of invasiveness and links with
ing income to national economies depending on tourism. climate change
Climate change and biological invasions also have so- Although scientists are already identifying many of the
cial/cultural implications, both in terms of impacts and linkages, continuing research is needed, especially with
potential solutions. With respect to climate change, the respect to the ability to accurately predict the spread of
most vulnerable will be those people engaged in subsis- biological invasions in the context of global change. A
tence agriculture because of the many constraints that critical resource for developing or adapting invasive spe-
limit their capacity to adapt to change (Morton 2007). The cies management plans will be tools that provide an as-
2007/2008 Human Development Report (UNDP 2007, 2) sessment of the invasion threat posed by each potentially
highlights the potential impact of climate change on pov- invasive species and tools that allow effective manage-
erty reduction strategies and development planning and ment of invasive species at the community level. Ap-
notes that failure to fully address the impacts of climate proaches that have been proposed to help refine such
change will “consign the poorest 40 percent of the world’s assessments include use of models combining local and
population to a future of diminished opportunity.” global, biotic and abiotic factors (Ficetola et al. 2007) and
However, local and traditional knowledge about natural use of variants of niche through BIOCLIM, DOMAIN and
resource management can form an important basis for cli- MAXENT modeling (Ward 2007). In addition, modeling
mate change adaptation planning and implementation, as approaches being developed to understand species’ re-
has already been demonstrated in the Arctic (Ford et al. sponses to climate change more generally (e.g. Anderson
2006) and Sahel (Nyong et al. 2007). et al. 2009; Brook et al. 2009) should be useful for applica-
Pfeiffer and Ortiz (2007) report that the spread of intro- tion more specifically to potentially invasive species.
duced tamarisks (Tamarix spp.) in south-western USA has Although risk management for biological invasions re-
caused significant losses of native plants, including cot- sulting from global change will always be a challenge, there
tonwoods (Populus fremontii S. Wats.) and willows (Salix are already several assessment frameworks now available
spp.), which are used in traditional basketry. In contrast, or in development. Examples include the weed risk assess-
some traditional resource management practices in Ha- ment system in use in Australia, which has been very ac-
waii have actually enhanced the spread of invasive spe- curate in assessing species of unknown invasive poten-

106 © 2010 ISZS, Blackwell Publishing and IOZ/CAS

Climate change and invasive species

tial (Gordon et al. 2008). Such tools need to be refined, as term (mitigation) strategies to manage the potential im-
new knowledge about invasiveness becomes available, pact of such disasters. This recovery planning should also
and used as regular components of risk management strat- incorporate measures to prevent invasions. For example,
egies for all sectors, especially agriculture and energy. invasive species were also a critical concern in the recov-
These can also be applied to climate change situations to ery plans for Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in
use in the prevention of biological invasions. 2006. The Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes
The Invasive Species Specialist Group of the Species formosanus Shiraki, 1909) is native to China but was acci-
Survival Commission of IUCN has produced “Guidelines dentally introduced into the USA, and has since invaded
for the prevention of biodiversity loss caused by alien at least 9 southern states. Prior to hurricane Katrina, the
invasive species” (IUCN 2000), which provide direction Formosan termite was responsible for an estimated
on preventing and managing invasive species across 4 $US100m annually in damage to homes and businesses in
areas; namely, the New Orleans area (US EPA 2005). Following Hurricane
improving understanding and awareness Katrina, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and For-
estry passed the Formosan Termite Initiative Act, effec-
strengthening the management response
tively quarantining debris from the disaster (Louisiana
providing appropriate legal and institutional mecha-
Department of Agriculture 2005). The act notes that, “The
hurricane has left millions of tons of wood debris, includ-
enhancing knowledge and research efforts. ing debris infested with Formosan Termites,” and that “Im-
Eradication and control within adaptive management
position of this quarantine is required to prevent the spread
of Formosan termites and infestation of areas, homes and
strategies, including disaster recovery planning structures that are not currently infested, or which are to
The impact of either climate change or biological inva- be built or reconstructed.”
sion is a dynamic process and highly dependent on the
characteristics of the invading species as well as those in Invasive-aware energy choices
the habitat being invaded. Any strategy to eradicate or Interestingly, many characteristics of crops being con-
control an invasion will have to include the principles of sidered for cultivation as biofuels are shared by invasive
adaptive management. In undertaking eradication, ecosys- species, such as being fast growing and having high
tem managers should also be aware of potential second- productivity, adaptability to a range of soil and climatic
ary impacts of that eradication (Zavaleta et al. 2001; conditions and resistance to pests and diseases (Howard
Bergstrom et al. 2009). In some cases, removing one in- & Ziller 2008). Nipa palm (Nypa fruticans Wumb), for
vader has simply provided space for another to move in. example, has invaded and colonized over 200 km2 of the
Control and eradication plans should be developed with a Atlantic coast of Nigeria and can produce far greater
landscape scale approach to take into consideration, as biofuel per hectare than sugar cane, according to some
much as possible, these secondary effects. experts. All introduced crops for biofuel production
Successful eradication cases have 3 key factors in should, therefore, be treated as suspect or potentially in-
common: particular biological features of the target vasive until proven otherwise. While simply harvesting
species; sufficient economic resources devoted for a long existing problem invasives species such as water hyacinth,
time; and widespread support from the relevant agencies lantana (Lantana camara L.) and nipa palm might present
and the public (Mack et al. 2000). When eradication is not an attractive option for biofuel feedstocks, it will not con-
possible, or if it is not desired, as in the case of native trol them and there is perverse risk that markets are cre-
species invading through range expansion, some measures ated for such invasives species, thereby encouraging their
of “maintenance control” aimed at maintaining popula- spread and so further damaging biodiversity.
tions of the invading species at acceptably low levels have Continuing on a fossil-fuel based economy path will
been attempted, usually through biological control. not support the action needed to mitigate climate change,
However, the quicker-acting chemical and mechanical con- and some energy choices, specifically biofuels, have added
trols sometimes used pose many problems, including their additional environmental stress through the introduction
high cost and the low public acceptance of some prac- of invasive species. Buddenhagen et al. (2009), in review-
tices (Mack et al. 2000). ing potential biofuel crops for Hawaii through application
Climate change is already demonstrably increasing the of a weed risk assessment system, determine that those
number of extreme natural events (e.g. floods and crops were 2–4 times more likely to become invasive.
hurricanes) and many countries are developing longer-

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S. A. Mainka and G. Howard

Enabling policy environment noted above, they will need to be developed within the
context of local cultures and traditional practices.
Climate mitigation and adaptation policy frameworks
Pyke et al. (2008) propose that for optimum synergy
should include consideration of biological invasions
across climate change and invasive species policy, the
(assessment, monitoring and management), both as indi-
following 3 principles should be followed:
cators of change and in their own right. Climate change
can facilitate invasions leading to impacts and costs, and ensure that climate change mitigation does not exacer-
invasions can increase the magnitude of climate impacts bate invasive species problems
on people. Therefore, it is vital that policy decisions taken invasive species management should take climate
with respect to climate change include consideration of change into account
invasive species. A recent review of the vulnerability of climate change adaptation activities should contribute
Australia’s biodiversity to climate change recognizes the to invasive species management.
potential of compounding threats to biodiversity and con-
cludes that: “Significant changes are required in policy
and management for biodiversity conservation to meet
these types of challenges” (Steffen et al. 2009, 1). 1. Climate change and invasive species are two drivers of
In practical terms, this can mean that production of re- biodiversity loss that, acting together, can compound
newable energy sources such as biofuels should only be impacts on the environment in general and biodiversity
undertaken in a manner that does not introduce invasives. in particular.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels has drafted a set 2. Taking action to address one or the other threat alone
of guidelines for sustainability that incorporate consider- may not lead to desired results either for biodiversity
ation of the potential invasiveness of biofuel feedstocks or human well being.
(RSB 2008). 3. Tools for addressing this situation are currently avail-
Given that it is expected that climate change will result able or being further refined for better predictability.
in an increased number of extreme events, and that evi- 4. Raising awareness of the climate change/biological in-
dence from the ecological aftermath of such events, in- vasion interaction and the consequent increase in
cluding that from Hurricane Katrina noted above as well threats to biodiversity, development and human liveli-
as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (UNEP 2005) includes hoods is a critical element for successful prevention
impacts from invading species, it is imperative to consider and/or management of the resulting impacts.
the potential of combined impacts when planning and
implementing policy for disaster risk management. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Setting policy frameworks for invasive species that fail
The authors wish to thank two anonymous reviewers
to consider climate change can mean missing out on vital
for their helpful comments and additional references to
issues that are required to prevent and control invasion.
improve the manuscript. We would also like to thank the
Geographic frameworks that do not build in flexibility might
ISZS international research program Biological Conse-
bring biological disaster in the future. For example, with
quences of Global Change (BCGC) sponsored by Bureau
decreasing ice in the Arctic as a result of climate change,
of International Cooperation, Chinese Academy of Sci-
far northern waters might soon become a major shipping
ences (GJHZ200810).
lane. Although the Arctic is currently among the least in-
vaded of the marine realms, increased shipping has been
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