VITOUSEK et al: INTRODUCED SPECIES AND GLOBAL CHANGE 1
New Zealand Journal of Ecology (1997) 21(1): 1-16 ©New Zealand Ecological Society
Humans move species beyond their native ranges
both deliberately and inadvertently, and many of
these species become established and spread in their
new habitat. The list of established introduced
species grows annually, as does the number of them
that cause significant economic and ecological
effects. One recent and notorious example in North
America is the Eurasian zebra mussel - which like
many other aquatic organisms entered in the ballast
water of ships, and like many others spread rapidly
once it arrived. The invasion of zebra mussels is
unusual in the magnitude of its economic
consequences; the mussels grow and reproduce
rapidly, covering river and lake bottoms and
municipal and industrial water inlets. The cost of
clearing blocked intake pipes has been calculated to
be approximately US$2 billion (Office of
Technology Assessment, 1993). Zebra mussels also
alter populations of algae and the concentrations of
nutrients in whole ecosystems (Caraco et al., 1997),
and they are continuing to spread in rivers, lakes,
and canals throughout North America.
We suggest that biological invasions by
notorious species like the zebra mussel, and its many
less-famous counterparts, have become so
widespread as to represent a significant component
of global environmental change. This point has been
made before (eg Elton, 1958), but is not widely
appreciated, even by the global change research
community or by those who study and/or work to
control biological invasions. In part, this lack of
appreciation reflects the fact that our perception is
limited spatially - it is possible to document the
presence and importance of biological invasions
almost anywhere, but more difficult to perceive that
invasions are almost everywhere. In part, it may also
reflect a narrow view of global environmental
change, one that emphasizes climate change (global
warming) at the expense of other, equally significant
components of human-caused global change.
In this paper, we place biological invasions in
context with other human-caused global environ-
mental changes; briefly describe the global extent of
biological invasion; illustrate the consequences of
particular invasions as they affect human health and
wealth, and/or the functioning and biological
diversity of natural ecosystems; discuss interactions
between biological invasions and other components
of global change; and describe ways that society can
prevent, manage, and/or cope with invasions.
Our perspective on global environmental change is
summarized in Fig. 1, in which the third level lists
PETER M. VITOUSEK, CARLA M. D’ANTONIO
, LLOYD L. LOOPE
and RANDY WESTBROOKS
Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305 USA.
Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720 USA.
Pacific Islands Ecosystem Research Center, Haleakala National Park Field Station, P.O. Box 369, Makawao, Hawaii
Department of Botany, University of California, Davis, California 95616 USA
Noxious Weed Program, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, P.O. Box 279, Whiteville, North Carolina 28472 USA
INTRODUCED SPECIES: A SIGNIFICANT COMPONENT OF
HUMAN-CAUSED GLOBAL CHANGE
Summary: Biological invasions are a widespread and significant component of human-caused global
environmental change. The extent of invasions of oceanic islands, and their consequences for native
biological diversity, have long been recognized. However, invasions of continental regions also are
substantial. For example, more than 2,000 species of alien plants are established in the continental United
States. These invasions represent a human-caused breakdown of the regional distinctiveness of Earth’s flora
and fauna - a substantial global change in and of itself. Moreover, there are well-documented examples of
invading species that degrade human health and wealth, alter the structure and functioning of otherwise
undisturbed ecosystems, and/or threaten native biological diversity. Invasions also interact synergistically
with other components of global change, notably land use change. People and institutions working to
understand, prevent, and control invasions are carrying out some of the most important - and potentially most
effective - work on global environmental change.
Keywords: Biological invasion; Invasions into parks and preserves; Invasion and biological diversity;
Invasion and ecosystems; Land-use change; Introduced pests and pathogens.
2NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF ECOLOGY, VOL. 21, NO. 1, 1997
six relatively well-documented global changes: the
increasing concentration of CO
in the atmosphere,
alterations to the global biogeochemical cycle of
nitrogen and other elements, the production and
release of persistent organic compounds such as the
chlorofluorocarbons, widespread changes in land use
and land cover, hunting and harvesting of natural
populations of large predators and consumers, and
biological invasions by non-native species. All of
these clearly represent ongoing global changes, and
all are clearly human-caused.
These changes are driven proximately by the
industrial and agricultural enterprises of humanity,
and ultimately by the explosive growth over the past
two centuries of both the human population and per
capita resource use. The six well-documented
changes in turn cause other global changes; some
drive global climate change by enhancing the
greenhouse effect, and some drive loss of biological
diversity by causing the extinction of species and
genetically distinct populations. The importance of
biological invasion as one of these global changes is
The scope and distribution of
How widespread are biological invasions?
The importance of biological invasions to oceanic
island ecosystems has long been recognized.
Invasions also are frequent in many continental
areas, where they represent a substantial component
of the flora and fauna of most countries. Table 1
summarizes the pattern and number of plant
invasions in many regions. On continents, there is an
increase in the number of invading species per log
(area) from north to south until one reaches dry
subtropical regions; invasions are relatively low in
the tropics, then increase again in south temperate
areas. Heavily-visited islands are invaded to a
greater extent (per log area) than continents or less-
trafficked islands. The information in Table 1
confirms patterns illustrated by Rejmánek and
Randall (1994). A more general point of Table 1 is
that invasions are everywhere, on continents as well
Figure 1: Components of global environmental change. Growth in the size of and resource use by the human population is
expressed through growing industrial and agricultural (including forestry, grazing, etc) activity. These have caused a set of
relatively well-documented global environmental changes (well-documented both in the sense that they are occurring, and
in that they are human-caused), including increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the production
and distribution of novel and persistent compounds such as chlorofluorocarbons (with their attendant effects on
stratospheric ozone) and PCBs, global-scale alteration of the biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen, sulfur, and other
elements, changes in land use and land cover, the removal of top predators from most terrestrial and many marine
ecosystems, and biological invasions by exotic species. These components of change interact; they will also drive changes
in global climate, and losses of biological diversity. After Vitousek (1994).
VITOUSEK et al: INTRODUCED SPECIES AND GLOBAL CHANGE 3
Table 1: Established alien vascular plants in selected continental and island floras. Species richness of alien floras is
expressed as: (1) The total number of naturalized species. (2) The percentage of naturalized species in the flora. (3) The
number of naturalized species/log(area); there is generally an approximately linear relationship between the numbers of
species in an area and the log(area). Species that are not established beyond cultivation or which have not been confirmed
in this century are not included.
Number of Number of Percentage of Number of
Area native established established alien species
)species alien species alien species per log(area) Sources
LARGE CONTINENTAL AREAS
Russian Arctic 3,500,000 1,403 104 6.9 15.9 1
Europe 10,382,000 11,820 721 5.7 102.8 2
Western and central Sahara 4,000,000 830 <28 <3.3 <4.2 3
Tropical Africa 22,300,000 23,500 536 2.2 72.9 4
Southern Africa 2,693,389 20,573 824 3.9 128.1 5
Alaska 1,528,200 1,229 144 10.5 23.3 6
Canada 9,976,139 3,270 940 22.3 134.3 7
Coterminous U.S.A. 7,844,400 ca 17,300 ca 2,100 ca 10.8 ca 304.6 8
Peru 1,285,200 17,900 314 1.7 51.4 9
Chile 756,600 4,437 678 13.3 115.3 10
Australia 7,686,848 15,638 1,952 11.1 283.5 11
SMALLER CONTINENTAL AREAS
Murmansk area 120,000 983 82 7.7 16.1 12
Finland 338,145 1,250 247 16.5 44.7 13
Norway 323,878 1,195 580 32.7 105.3 14
Poland 312,680 2,250 275 10.9 50.1 15
France 549,619 4,350 480 9.9 83.6 16
Egypt 1,000,250 2,015 86 4.1 14.3 17
Djibouti 23,000 641 44 6.4 10.1 18
Uganda 236,040 4,848 152 3.1 28.3 19
Rwanda 26,338 2,500 93 3.6 21.1 20
Namibia 824,293 3,159 60 1.9 10.1 21
Swaziland 17,366 2,715 110 3.9 25.9 22
Cape region 90,000 8,270 441 5.1 88.9 23
NW Territories (Canada) 3,380,000 1,055 53 4.8 8.1 24
British Columbia 948,600 2,048 547 21.1 91.5 25
Ontario 1,068,587 2,056 805 28.1 133.5 26
Minnesota 217,136 1,618 392 19.5 73.5 27
New York 137,795 1,940 1,083 35.8 210.7 28
Missouri 174,242 1,920 634 24.8 121.1 29
California 411,020 4,844 1,025 17.5 182.6 30
Central Florida 68,738 1,746 440 20.1 90.9 31
Texas 692,400 4,498 492 9.9 84.2 32
Baja California 143,700 2,480 183 6.9 35.5 33
Valle de Mexico 7,500 1,910 161 7.8 41.5 34
Chiapas (Mex.) 74,211 6,650 206 3.1 42.3 35
Panama 77,082 7,123 263 3.6 53.8 36
Choco (Colombia) 42,205 3,818 48 1.2 10.4 37
Guaianas 469,234 8,030 287 3.5 50.6 38
Monte Video area 664 843 180 17.6 63.8 39
Buenos Aires area 80,000 1,369 363 21.1 74.1 40
Northern Territory (Australia) 1,331,900 3,293 262 7.4 42.8 41
Queensland 1,707,520 7,535 1,161 13.3 186.3 42
Perth region 10,500 1,510 547 26.6 136.1 43
New South Wales 792,150 4,677 1,253 21.1 212.4 44
Victoria 224,983 2,773 1,190 30.1 222.3 45
Table 1 continued over
4NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF ECOLOGY, VOL. 21, NO. 1, 1997
Table 1: continued
Number of Number of Percentage of Number of
Area native established established alien species
)species alien species alien species per log(area) Sources
Devon Is. (Canada) 58,000 115 0 0 0 46
Jan Mayen 380 57 4 6.5 1.6 47
Greenland 326,000 427 86 16.8 15.6 48
Queen Charlotte 9,200 469 116 19.8 29.3 49
British Isles 244,872 1,255 945 42.9 175.4 50
Sakhalin 75,370 1,081 92 7.8 18.9 51
Newfoundland 144,890 906 292 24.4 56.6 52
San Juan Islands (USA) 390 546 283 34.1 109.2 53
Angel Is. (Calif.) 3 282 134 32.2 280.9 54
Santa Cruz (Calif.) 244 462 157 25.4 65.8 55
Crete 8,700 1,586 92 5.5 23.4 56
Canary Islands 7,252 1,254 680 35.2 176.2 57
Bermuda 54 165 303 64.7 174.9 58
Bahamas 14,500 1,104 246 18.2 59.1 59
Hormoz \ Qeshm 1,290 230 49 17.6 15.8 60
Cuba 114,500 5,790 376 6.1 74.3 61
Hawaii 16,764 1,143 891 43.8 210.9 62
Cayman Is. 259 536 65 10.8 26.9 63
Puerto Rico 8,897 2,741 356 11.5 90.1 64
Guadalupe & Martinique 2,620 1,668 360 17.8 105.3 65
Guam 583 327 185 36.1 66.8 66
Ascension 94 25 >120 >82.8 >60.8 67
Galapagos 7,870 604 260 30.1 66.7 68
Rodrigues 40 132 305 69.8 190.4 69
Tristan da Cunha 102 58 119 67.2 59.3 70
Lord Howe 550 206 173 45.6 63.1 71
New Zealand 268,575 2,449 1,623 39.9 298.9 72
Marion \ Prince Edward 330 21 10 32.3 4.1 73
Auckland 450 187 41 17.9 15.5 74
Falklands 11,900 163 83 33.7 20.4 75
Tierra del Fuego 48,700 417 128 23.5 27.3 76
Macquarie Is. 90 44 5 10.2 2.6 77
Southern Shetland Islands 1,390 2 0 0 0 78
Sources: 1. Tolmachev (1960-1987), Gorodkov and Poyarkova (1953-1966); 2. Tutin et al.(1964-1980), Tutin et al.(1993),
Clement and Foster (1994), Rejmánek (unpublished); 3. Ozenda (1991); 4. Lebrun and Stork (1991-1995), Rejmánek
(unpublished); 5. Arnold and de Wet (1993); 6. Welsh (1974); 7. Boivin (1968); Scoggan (1978-1979); 8. Kartesz (1994), Morin
(1993), Shetler and Skog (1979), U.S. Department of Agriculture (1982); 9. Barko and Zarucchi (1993), Tryon and Stolze (1989-
1994); 10. Marticorena and Quezada (1985), Aroyo (unpublished); 11. Hnatiuk (1990); 12. Gorodkov and Poyarkova (1953-
1966); 13. Tutin et al. (1964-1980), Tutin et al. (1993), Ahti and Hämet-Ahti (1971), Suominen (1979); 14. Fremstad, Elven
and Tømerås (1994); 15. Kornas (1990); 16. Tutin et al.(1964-1980); Tutin et al.(1993); Jovet (1971); 17. Täckholm (1974);
18. Lebrun, Audru and Cesar (1989); 19. Rejmánek (unpublished); 20. Troupin (1978-1988); 21. Merxmüller (1966-1972),
Roessler and Merxmüller (1976); 22. Kemp (1983); 23. Arnold and de Wet (1993), Bond and Goldblatt (1984); 24. Porsild and
Cody (1980); 25. Douglas, Straley and Meidinger (1990-1994); 26. Morton and Venn (1990); 27. Ownbey and Morely (1991);
28. Mitchell (1986); 29. Yatskiewych and Turner (1990); 30. Hickman (1993), Rejmánek and Randall (1994); 31. Wunderlin
(1982); 32. Johnson (1990); 33. Wiggins (1980), Gould and Moran (1981); 34. Rzedowski and Rzedowski (1989); 35. Breedlove
(1986); 36. D’Arcy (1987); 37. Forero and Gentry (1989); 38. Boggan et al.(1992); 39. Lombardo (1982-1984); 40. Cabrera
and Zardini (1978); 41. Hnatiuk (1990); 42. Hnatiuk (1990); 43. Marchant et al. (1987); 44. Hnatiuk (1990); 45. Carr (1993);
46. Barrett and Teeri (1973); 47. Lid (1964); 48. Porsild (1932), Bøcher et al.(1978), Bay (1993); 49. Calder and Taylor (1968);
50. Clement and Foster (1994), Ryves et al.(1996); 51. Vorobiev et al.(1974); 52. Rouleau and Lamourex (1992); 53. Atkinson
and Sharpe (1985); 54. Ripley (1980); 55. Wallace (1985), Junak et al. (1995); 56. Barclay (1986); 57. Kunkel (1980); 58. Britton
(1918); 59. Correll and Correll (1982); 60. Kunkel (1977); 61. Borhidi (1991); 62. Wagner, Herbst and Sohmer (1990), Wilson
(1996); 63. Proctor (1984); 64. Liogier and Martorell (1982), Francis and Liogier (1991); 65. Fournet (1978); 66. Stone (1970),
Lee (1974); 67.Duffey (1964), Conk (1980); 68. Lawesson (1990); 69. Strahm (unpublished); 70. Dean et al.(1994); 71. Pickard
(1984); 72. Atkinson and Cameron (1993); 73. Gremmen (1982); 74. Meurk (1982); 75. Moore (1968);76. Moore (1983); 77.
Selkirk, Seppelt and Selkirk (1990); 78. Komárková, Poncet and Poncet (1990)
VITOUSEK et al: INTRODUCED SPECIES AND GLOBAL CHANGE 5
as islands, and in the tropics as well as temperate
regions. The continental United States and Australia
both support ~2,000 species of established alien
plants! While the absolute number of species
generally is less, introduced plants on some islands
make up half or more of the flora.
Biological invasions by fishes and birds are not
as frequent as invasions by plants. However, some of
the same patterns are evident (Table 2). Isolated
islands often support more introduced than native
fish species. Even many continental sites (for
example, California, Europe and Brazil) have
relatively large numbers of non-native fish species.
The lack of data on numbers of fish introductions in
Africa does not imply that they are unimportant - for
example, introduction of Nile perch (Lates nilotica)
and tilapia (several species in 3 genera) into Lake
Victoria has led to dramatic species loss and
ecosystem change in a matter of a few decades
Introduced birds have established wild
populations in most countries where data are
available, and in some areas (Hawaii, New Zealand)
they comprise a substantial proportion of the
avifauna. Outside of urban areas, numbers of
introduced bird species are relatively low in most
continental regions (compared to islands). However,
individual species can be quite abundant in
continental habitats - witness the widespread and
abundant European house sparrow (Passer
domesticus) and starling (Sturnus vulgaris) in North
Invasion Into U.S. Parks and Reserves
Biological invasions are particularly prominent in
disturbed areas, leading some to consider invasions to
be primarily consequences of disturbance rather than
a component of change in their own right. Parks and
biological preserves generally represent the least-
altered areas of land - a former director of the U.S.
National Park Service championed the concept of the
parks as a national analogue of “miners’ canaries”,
relatively pristine sites where the pervasiveness of
environmental deterioration might be evaluated. What
do parks and reserves in the United States tell us
about pervasiveness of invasions?
Vascular plants: Floristic lists for a large
sample of U.S. reserves have 5 - 25% non-native
species. However, the majority of introductions are
indeed confined to disturbed areas and appear to
Table 2: Native and exotic freshwater, inland fish, and breeding bird species in selected regions and countries around the
Region Area (km
)native exotic reference native exotic reference
Europe 10,400,000 74 1 514 27 11, 12
California 411,020 76 42 2, 3
Alaska 1,528,200 55 1 4
Canada 9,976,139 177 9 5
Mexico 1,958,200 275 26 5
Australia 7,686,848 145 22 5 32 12
South Africa 3,500,000 107 20 5 900 14 12, 13
Peru 1,285,200 12 6
Brazil 8,512,000 517 76 7 1,635 2 14
Bermuda 54 6 12
Bahamas 14,500 288 4 12, 15
Cuba 114,500 10 6 3 12
Puerto Rico 8,897 3 32 8 105 31 16
Hawaii 16,764 6 19 9 57 38 9
New Zealand 268,575 27 30 10 155 36 17
Japan 372,197 13 6 248 4 12, 18
a Includes only freshwater, inland species.
b Includes only permanent and breeding non-permanent species.
Sources:1. Holcik (1991); 2. McGinnis (1984); 3. Courtenay et al.(1984); 4. Moyle (1986); 5. Macdonald, Kruger and Ferrar
(1986); 6. Welcomme, R.L. (1981); 7. Nomura (1984); 8. Erdman (1984); 9. Stone and Stone (1989); 10. McDowall (1984);
11. Jonsson (1993); 12. Long (1981); 13. Roberts (1985); 14. Sick (1993); 15. Paterson (1972); 16. Raffaele (1989); 17. Kinsky
(1980); 18. Higuchi, Minton and Katsura (1995).
6NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF ECOLOGY, VOL. 21, NO. 1, 1997
pose little or no threat to native species or
ecosystems (Loope, 1992). In continental areas, the
most important exceptions to this generalization
include invasions into otherwise little-altered semi-
arid areas by grasses, most notably the annual
cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), and invasion into
riparian habitats and wetlands (i.e. tamarisk in the
Southwest, Melaleuca in the Florida Everglades, and
purple loosestrife in northeast and midwest) (Loope,
1992). Hawaiian reserves, where the percentage of
non-native species in the flora reaches 50 - 70 % and
plant invasions clearly threaten native biota, confirm
the vulnerability of islands to invasion.
Ungulates: Feral pigs may be the single most
damaging introduction in national parks and reserves
of the United States. Singer (1981) found that they
inhabit 13 areas in the National Park system, in
southeastern U.S., Hawaii, and California. Effects of
pigs on otherwise undisturbed areas are severe and
pervasive in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
and in Haleakala and Hawaii Volcanoes National
Parks. In Hawaii, pigs are major dispersers and
facilitators of plant invaders (Stone, 1985). Other
particularly damaging invasive ungulates in parks
include feral goats in Hawaii (now largely removed
from Hawaiian parks); feral burros in Death Valley
(now largely removed), Grand Canyon, and other
southwestern parks; and mountain goats (Oreamnos
americanus) in Olympic National Park.
Aquatic and wetland ecosystems: Invasions of
aquatic and wetland ecosystems of continental U.S.
are fully as severe as island invasions. In Sequoia-
Kings Canyon National Park, for example,
intentionally introduced brook trout (Salvelinus
fontinalis) and brown trout (Salmo trutta) have
displaced native rainbow trout (Onchorhynchas
mykiss) in many streams (G. Larson, personal
communication). Brook and rainbow trout
introduced in waters previously barren of fish have
greatly reduced native invertebrate organisms and
amphibians. In Great Smoky Mountains National
Park, the introduced rainbow trout threatens native
brook trout populations with local extirpation (G.
Larson, personal communication). Even the
relatively pristine waters of Glacier National Park
have been largely (84 %) compromised by past fish
introductions (Marnell, 1995).
Forest pathogens and insects: White pine blister
rust (Cronartium ribicola) and the balsam woolly
adelgid (Adelges piceae) illustrate the devastating
effects of introduced forest “pests ”, even in
undisturbed parks and preserves. Both were brought
to the U.S. 80—100 years ago on European nursery
stock, and (after years of harm to commercial forest
concerns) both are now affecting U.S. parks and
White pine blister rust attacks five-needled
pines; it is now causing increasing mortality of sugar
pine (Pinus lambertiana) in forests of Yosemite and
Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks (L. Bancroft,
pers. comm.). Whitebark pine (P. albicaulis) also is
being hit hard; fewer than one tree in 10,000 is rust
resistant, and large die-offs are expected to occur
through the range of whitebark pine. Since
whitebark pine seeds are an extremely important
food of the grizzly bear and other animals (Kendall,
1995), decline of the tree may have severe
consequences in Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand
Teton National Parks.
Balsam woolly adelgid attacks true firs of the
genus Abies , causing mortality within 2—7 years
through feeding and chemical damage to vascular
tissue. This small cottony insect is particularly
damaging to Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), a species
found only in the southern Appalachian Mountains,
where it occurs primarily within the high-elevation
spruce-fir forest of Great Smoky Mountains National
Park. Since its discovery in 1963 in the park, the
adelgid has killed nearly all adult (cone-bearing) fir
trees in the park (Langdon and Johnson, 1992).
Consequences of invasions
The number and variety of species introductions
makes clear that it is no exaggeration to say
biological invasions are breaking down the
biogeographic barriers that have created and
maintained the major floral and faunal regions of
Earth. In other words, invasions are blurring the
regional distinctiveness of Earth’s biota. However,
while all human-caused biological invasions
represent environmental change, we are not equally
concerned about the consequences of all of them.
Many invasions are reflections of other changes,
rather than being themselves drivers of change. For
example, invading plants that only occupy roadside
areas cannot now be regarded as serious threats to
native biological diversity; they are a consequence
of land-use change (which may itself threaten
diversity). Moreover, some introduced species
clearly are beneficial to humanity; for example, it
would be impossible to support the present
population of the United States entirely on native
foods. However, some invading species degrade
human health and/or wealth directly; others affect
the structure and functioning of ecosystems, and/or
the maintenance or restoration of native biological
diversity. We will discuss an example of each of
these, to illustrate some of the consequences of
current invasions. For each that we discuss, there are
many others that are at least as well documented and
at least as damaging.
VITOUSEK et al: INTRODUCED SPECIES AND GLOBAL CHANGE 7
Most infectious diseases themselves are human-
transported biological invaders over most of their
range. Several centuries ago, the indigenous people
of North America could have cited smallpox as a
devastating Old World invader (Crosby, 1986) - just
as modern Americans can point to HIV.
Introduced species themselves can act as vectors
of disease. One recent example is the Asian tiger
mosquito Aedes albopictus . Its larvae were brought
into the United States as hitch-hikers in used car and
truck tires imported for retreading and resale
(Craven et al. , 1988). Two earlier introductions of
A. albopictus in shipments of military tires had
failed to establish - but with the growth of
commercial importation, A. albopictus and other
mosquitoes have been imported more frequently (6.8
tires/10,000 were found to be infested in 1986), and
over a much wider area (Craven et al. , 1988). A.
albopictus became established in the U.S. in the
1980s, and as of 1992 occurred in 25 states. It can
feed on most mammals and birds; in its natural
range, it is a known vector of dengue fever and other
human arbroviruses. Perhaps most importantly, in
the U.S. it is a documented vector for eastern equine
encephalitis, an often-fatal viral infection of people
as well as horses (Craig, 1993).
The zebra mussel invasion mentioned above is a
recent invasion that has been expensive for North
American cities and industries. Other invasions
affect crops, rangelands, and commercial forests,
costing many millions of dollars annually in lost
yields and control efforts. Invasions can also be
costly to developing economies, where the margin
for dealing with additional costs is less. One
example is the golden snail (Pomacea canaliculata)
in Asian rice ecosystems. The snail was brought
from South America to Taiwan to provide a
supplemental source of protein and export income to
small rice farms. Its benefits were illusory - local
people find the snail distasteful (a recipe calling for
“washing in a vinegar solution repeatedly to remove
mucus and slime” may help to explain why), and the
export market was closed by health concerns (Food
and Agricultural Organization, 1989). At the same
time, the costs of golden apple snail importation
were high - the snail has rapid population growth,
spreads rapidly through irrigation canals, and
voraciously consumes young rice plants. When the
costs became clear, the entrepreneurs who imported
the snail simply exported it to other countries; it has
now spread throughout east and southeast Asia
The economic costs of this invasion have been
evaluated carefully in the Philippines (Naylor,
1996). In 1990 alone, the total cost to farmers was
$27.8—45.3 million, split among costs of control
with molluscides and handpicking, replanting costs,
and yield losses (despite control and replanting).
This amounted to 25—40 % of what the Philippines
spent on rice imports in 1990; it represents just one
year’s damage in one of many infested countries.
Invaders that alter ecosystem processes such as
primary productivity, decomposition, hydrology,
geomorphology, nutrient cycling and/or disturbance
regimes do not simply compete with or consume
native species - they change the rules of existence
for all species. Invaders that affect each of these
processes are known; we cannot discuss all of them
here, but one dramatic example is the invasion of the
nitrogen-fixing tree Myrica faya into Hawaii
Volcanoes National Park. Seeds of Myrica are
dispersed by a variety of native and introduced birds,
Figure 2: Distribution and spread of the golden apple snail
through Asian rice-growing countries. From Naylor
8NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF ECOLOGY, VOL. 21, NO. 1, 1997
and thereby readily reach young sites created by
volcanic eruptions. Studies in Hawaii Volcanoes
National Park show that: 1) plant growth in young
volcanic sites is profoundly limited by low N
availability in soil; 2) colonization by Myrica
increases total inputs of N by more than 4-fold; 3)
the N fixed by Myrica cycles rapidly through Myrica
and to biologically available pools in the soil
(Vitousek and Walker, 1989); and 4) the N that
Myrica adds to sites alters community composition
of other plant species, and of soil organisms - in both
cases towards dominance by other non-native
organisms. In essence, invasion by one species
changes the composition and dynamics of the entire
ecosystem (Vitousek and Walker, 1989).
Effects on Biological Diversity
The eastern deciduous forests of North America
represent a diverse continental ecosystem, one that
might be expected to be as resistant as any to
biological invasions. These forests were cleared
extensively in the 1800s, but have recovered
substantially in this century. The scientific community
has put a great deal of effort into determining current
and probable future effects of climate change,
concentrations, acid rain, and oxidant
air pollution on these forests. However, by far the
greatest perturbations to these ecosystems in this
century have involved the invasion of wave after wave
of introduced pests and diseases (Sinclair, Lyon and
Johnson, 1987, Campbell and Schlarbaum, 1994,
Niemelä and Mattson 1996). Some of these pests,
such as gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), consume a
variety of species, and their effects on forest diversity
are not yet known. Other more specialized pathogens
have eliminated the American chestnut, Castanea
dentata (once a dominant component of eastern
forests) and American elm, Ulmus americana from
the eastern forest. Other tree species undergoing major
decline due to non-native diseases or insects include
American beech (Fagus grandifolia), mountain ash
(Sorbus americana), butternut (Juglans nigra), eastern
hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), flowering dogwood
(Cornus florida), and sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
(Langdon and Johnson, 1992, Campbell and
Schlarbaum, 1994) - in addition to the Fraser fir
discussed above. We suspect that invasions will
continue to represent the most important factor
reducing diversity of these forests for the foreseeable
Interactions With Other Global Changes
In addition to being a component of global change,
biological invasions interact with the other major
components of change (Huenneke, 1996). We
discuss interactions with two of these - land use
change and extinction/loss of biological diversity.
Land Use Change
Biological invasions interact with land-use change in
several ways. The most obvious of these is through
human alteration of disturbance regimes. The
association between disturbance and invasion was
noted above - and humans are now the premier
agents of disturbance on the planet. Moreover, we
have not merely increased the frequency and/or
intensity of disturbance; in many cases we have
created types of disturbances that are unlike
anything in the evolutionary history of many species.
These alterations have promoted invasion, often by
species that are associated with similar disturbances
within their original range (Hobbs and Huenneke,
The interaction between land use change and
invasion is not a one-way street. Both introduced
plants and animals can alter the disturbance regime
of sites they invade (D’Antonio et al. , in press). For
example, introduced fire-promoting grasses have
invaded many arid or semi-arid ecosystems, and in
so doing have increased the frequency, size and/or
intensity of fires. A recent literature review
concluded that non-native, fire-promoting grasses
are common in the Americas, Australia and Oceania,
where they threaten the maintenance of remaining
seasonally-dry tropical forests in some areas, and
represent a major impediment to the restoration
(even reforestation) of cleared lands (D’Antonio and
Vitousek, 1992). The dynamics of the introduced
grass/fire cycle are summarized in Fig. 3. In this
scenario, initial disturbance such as land clearing
(which often utilizes fire) allows the invasion of
introduced grasses. These grasses then create
microclimate and fuel conditions that favor an
increased frequency of fire. Fire in turn selects
against many native species and further promotes
fire-adapted grasses, resulting in a positive feedback
that perpetuates low diversity grassland or savanna.
External disturbance is not always required to
set this feedback in motion - at least in some cases,
grass invasion in and of itself is sufficient to enhance
fuel loading and increase the probability of fire. It is
even possible for grass species to promote human-
caused land use change. For example, the ready
availability of forage grasses that withstand grazing
and drought conditions has lead to the conversion of
millions of hectares of Sonoran desert woodland to
near monocultures of African buffel grass (Cenchrus
ciliaris , also called Pennisetum ciliare). (Yetman
and Burquez, 1994). Likewise, in Central and South
America dry and mesic forests have been replaced
VITOUSEK et al: INTRODUCED SPECIES AND GLOBAL CHANGE 9
by grazing tolerant (and fire responsive) African
pasture grasses (Parsons, 1972).
Perhaps the most dramatic and well documented
example of an introduced grass/fire cycle is the
invasion of the intermountain west in North America
by the European cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). This
annual species invaded shrub/steppe habitat in the
Great Basin that was previously dominated by native
shrubs and native perennial grasses. After cheatgrass
invasion, fire frequency has increased from an
estimated once every 60—110 yr to once every 3—5
yr. Almost 5 million hectares of land in Idaho and
Utah are now nearly monospecific stands of
cheatgrass (Whisenant, 1990).
The suppression of disturbance can also
promote invasion by introduced species, particularly
in aquatic ecosystems where reproduction and
recruitment are often synchronized with disturbance
cycles. Indeed, the damming and impoundment of
most of the rivers in the U.S. has been correlated
with the invasion of rivers, streambanks and
floodplains by introduced species, and with the rapid
conversion of diverse, native riparian forests to low
diversity stands of introduced species. For example,
prior to the construction of the large network of
dams that control the Colorado river, its floodplain
forests were dominated by native cottonwood and
willow species. With dam construction, groundwater
tables have dropped, scouring floods have ceased
and cottonwood and willow have declined - and
been replaced by nearly monospecific stands of the
introduced saltcedar (Tamarix sp.) (Ohmart,
Anderson and Hunter, 1988).
The fragmentation of wildland habitat resulting
from agricultural or urban development has also
affected the spread of introduced species. Urban
forests and parklands represent an increasing
percentage of our remaining near-natural habitats.
Because they are subjected to pollution stresses and
because of their proximity to sites of introduction and
their (often) large ratio of edge to interior habitat,
they are prime habitat for introduced plant or animal
pests which can then spread into less urban habitat.
Gypsy moths, for example, first became established
in an urban forest and subsequently became a major
pest species throughout the eastern United States (see
Liebhold et al. , 1995 for a history of the gypsy moth
outbreak). Outbreaks of introduced fungal pathogens
have also been found to be more common in forest
fragments that are close to urban areas (Castello,
Leopold and Smallidge, 1995).
Invasion and Extinction
A greatly enhanced rate of extinction of species and
of genetically distinct populations is the least
reversible of the many ongoing global environmental
changes (Vitousek, 1994) - and there is good
evidence that biological invasions contribute
substantially to extinction. As of 1991, 44 species of
freshwater fish in the continental United States were
threatened or endangered by the introduction of non-
native fish. Of the 40 species of fish known to have
gone extinct since 1890, 27 were negatively affected
by introduced fish (Wilcove and Bean, 1994).
While most extinctions in which introduced
species are known to have played a major part have
been on islands or in aquatic systems, the potential
for invasion-driven extinctions in continental
systems is substantial. At a global scale, this impact
can be estimated using species - area curves. These
Figure 3: Land clearing and grass invasions can interact in the initiation and maintenance of a grass-fire feedback system
that prevents forest regeneration over large areas of Earth. From D’Antonio and Vitousek (1992).
10 NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF ECOLOGY, VOL. 21, NO. 1, 1997
summarize the relationship between the size of an
area (an island or isolated patch of habitat) and the
number of species it supports. Preston (1960) plotted
the number of species of breeding birds in different
habitats against log of the area supporting them, and
found a linear relationship. Extrapolating that
relationship to the area of Earth’s land surface yields
a total number of bird species that is substantially
less than the actual number. The difference comes
about because areas that are isolated from each other
support wholly different bird faunas - in other
words, because regional distinctiveness begets
Westbrooks and colleagues applied this
approach to calculate directly the potential for
extinction resulting from biological invasion; Wright
(1987) had earlier carried out a similar analysis. For
example, a plot of the number of mammalian species
on each continent versus log area yields a straight
line with r
= .94 ; extending this relationship to the
land area of Earth, a single supercontinent would
support ~2,000 species (Fig. 4). Earth’s continents in
fact support 4,200 species, due to isolation of
distinct faunas in different regions. This analysis
implies that if invasions were so widespread as to
cause a complete breakdown of the biogeographic
barriers separating different regions, a substantial
number of Earth’s mammalian species would
(ultimately) be driven to extinction.
We believe that this analysis is as solid as
estimates of potential extinction rates based on
habitat loss and fragmentation (Wilson, 1992).
Moreover, this approach is supported by
paleobiological evidence. Two or three million years
ago, the Isthmus of Panama connected North and
South America, and allowed a massive exchange of
their biota (at least, of that portion able to survive in
the tropics) (Simpson, 1980). The result was
asymmetrical - while some South American
mammals (notably the opossum) spread and thrived
in North America, many more North American
mammals spread through South America. This
invasion by North American mammals corresponded
with a significant increase in the extinction rate of
South American mammals (Marshall et al. , 1982).
What Can Be Done?
In discussing biological invasions with other
scientists and the public, we run into two major
concerns. The first is a belief that invasions
represent a natural process that has always been
with us; the second is the feeling that the ease of
travel and the increasing global nature of the
economy make it impossible to prevent invasions
For the first, it is of course true that invasions
(like extinctions) have always been with us. What
differs now is the increased rate of invasions,
resulting from the extraordinary mobility of
humanity and our goods - an increase in the rate of
invasions that is so large as to represent a difference
in kind rather than degree. For example, the
complete insect fauna of the Hawaiian Islands
resulted from a successful colonization (followed by
evolutionary radiation) every 50,000—100,000 years
- but recently, 15—20 insect species per year have
become established there (Beardsley, 1979).
Similarly, detailed paleoecological studies of Eastern
North America indicate that there was one
prehistoric instance (in the past 10,000 years) in
which a tree species (eastern hemlock) declined
precipitously in a pattern consistent with pathogen
attack throughout most of its range (Davis, 1981).
This contrasts with devastation of several American
tree species by pathogens in the past century.
Figure 4: A species/area curve for mammals. The number
of species on a continent is tightly correlated with the size
of that continent - but extrapolating that relationship to the
land area of Earth (reuniting Gondawanaland) yields less
than half the total number of species that actually occur on
these continents. Much of the diversity of mammalian
species globally is due to the isolation of separate biotic
regions. Analysis prepared by A. Launer of the Center for
Conservation Biology, Stanford University.
VITOUSEK et al: INTRODUCED SPECIES AND GLOBAL CHANGE 11
For the second concern, we have framed the
problem of biological invasions as a fundamental
component of human-caused global change,
important in driving global losses of biological
diversity as well as (in many cases) undesirable from
a purely anthropocentric viewpoint (health, wealth).
As with other types of human-caused global change,
stemming the tide of biological invasions poses a
huge challenge to the ingenuity of humankind. A
large part of the task is convincing our colleagues,
students, and the public that it is a problem worthy
of our best efforts, and giving them sufficient
understanding that they can respond in a positive
way. Government-directed efforts are not going to
work without widespread support from citicens. Our
experience suggests that such citizen support in
beginning to arise in the United States, in the areas
that have been hardest hit by invasions. In Hawaii
and Florida, invasion stories are front-page items in
local newspapers, County Councils have been
known to provide funds for emergency invasive
species control projects to assure protection of
biodiversity, local lifestyles, and tourism.
Several of us attended an international
conference on alien species in Norway in mid-1996
and were encouraged by the high level of concern
accorded the problem in many countries and by a
number of serious efforts being initiated to confront
it at international, national, and local levels. (See
Sandlund, Schei and Viken 1996.) Better legal
frameworks are being sought in several countries.
New Zealand’s Biosecurity Act of 1993 and
Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act of
1996 are recognized as outstanding examples of
The challenge of slowing invasions may prove
to be as rewarding as - but less threatening to
economic growth and lifestyles than - slowing fossil
fuel combustion. Existing national laws and policies
can be enforced and strengthened, and intelligent
new approaches can be devised, given reasonable
public support. Moreover, concerned and informed
citizens can participate personally in recognizing
incipient invaders and preventing them from
spreading. The concept of thinking globally but
acting locally applies extremely well to stopping
invasions. Perhaps with no other form of global
change can educated and dedicated individuals have
such an opportunity to make a lasting difference.
We thank John Randall and Colin Townsend for
suggstions and critical comments on the manuscript,
Alan Launer for carrying out the analysis in Fig. 4,
and Cheryl Nakashima for preparing the manuscript
for publication. John Katzenberger and the Aspen
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