Rising global shipping traffic could lead to surge in invasive species

March 18, 2019

Rising global maritime traffic could lead to sharp increases in invasive species around the world over the next 30 years, according to a new study by McGill University researchers.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, suggest that shipping growth will far outweigh climate change in the spread of non-indigenous pests to new environments in coming decades.

"Biological invasions are believed to be a major driver of biodiversity change, and cause billions of dollars in economic damages annually," says senior author Brian Leung, an associate professor in McGill's Department of Biology and School of Environment. "Our models show that the emerging global shipping network could yield a three-fold to 20-fold increase in global marine invasion risk between now and 2050."

Shipping accounts for 80% of world trade, and an estimated 60% to 90% of marine bio-invasions. In some cases, ships transport living organisms through ballast water, which is taken up to stabilize the vessel. In others, species hitch a ride to new environments by attaching to the hulls of ships.

"To understand how biological invasions will change, we need to understand how shipping patterns could change," says lead author Anthony Sardain, a graduate student in Leung's lab at McGill. "Our study suggests that, unless appropriate action is taken, we could anticipate an exponential increase in such invasions, with potentially huge economic and ecological consequences."

Environmental policies could limit risks

Fortunately, the costs of biological invasions are being recognized, with major policy initiatives such as the international Ballast Water Management Convention put in place recently, the researchers note. The Convention, which entered into force in 2017, represents the latest global effort to control bio-invasions through measures such as ballast exchange - a method that has been effective at reducing invasion rates in the Great Lakes of North America. "While it's too early to gauge the efficacy of the Convention globally, our work suggests it is in the right direction," Leung says.

To project rates of global shipping traffic growth, and the consequences for biological invasions, the researchers built computer models using socioeconomic-growth scenarios developed as part of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As wealth and population increase, so too does demand for goods and services that aren't available locally. The wide range for increases in bio-invasion risk estimated by the models - anywhere from three-fold to 20-fold - stemmed from uncertainty in the underlying socioeconomic trajectories.

"Despite this large range, all scenarios point to an increase in both shipping and invasions," Sardain notes. "That should alert us to the gravity of the situation, and the importance of measures to curtail biological invasions."
-end-
Funding for the research was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

To read the study:

"Global forecasts of shipping traffic and biological invasions to 2050," Anthony Sardain, et al, Nature Sustainability, published online March 18, 2019. DOI: 10.1038/s41893-019-0245-y

McGill University

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.