Are humans an invasive species?


Not all species that are native to a specific location are invasive. To be considered as such, they must adapt easily to new areas and reproduce quickly. By displacing native species, invasive species thrive and harm habitat and the economy. Humans have undoubtedly had a significant impact on the environment leading to catastrophic climate crises, and threatening the planet and its inhabitants. However, can we really say that humans are an invasive species?

The National Geographic Society defines a invasive species as an “organism which is not indigenous or native to a particular area and which may cause serious economic and environmental damage to the new area”. Similarly, the US National Invasive Species Information Center defines invasive species as “an alien species whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health”.

According to the two definitions described above, to be categorized as an invasive species, certain criteria must be met. These include being non-native to the locality, adapting and reproducing quickly, and causing environmental and economic damage to the area.

As the climate changes naturally, humans are now seen as the main drivers of climate change. By attempting to modify the natural environment to conform to the needs of modern societies, humans have caused catastrophic events such as global warming, environmental degradation, mass extinction and loss of biodiversity which have led to ecological crisis and ecological collapse. Humans have affected and modified biodiversity and the ecosystem in multiple ways. Approximately one million species of flora and fauna are threatened with extinction, more than ever in human history, as a direct result of human activity. A report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found that three-quarters of the land and 66% of the marine environment are significantly changed by human actions.

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One of the most famous examples of a species that became extinct due to human actions is the the dodo bird, a bird once native to Mauritius. Discovered by Portuguese sailors in the 1500s, the species was wiped out of existence less than 200 years later. Due to their flightless nature, the fact that they probably nested on the ground, perhaps only laid one egg each year, and had no natural predators, making them fearless of humans, they were an easy source of meat. As more humans settled on the island, the resulting habitat loss further threatened the bird’s existence. The settlement of humans also brought other animals to the island and the unsustainable harvesting of the dodo, combined with habitat loss and losing competition with new species settling on the island, eventually leads to the complete eradication of the bird.

The socio-economic impact of biodiversity loss

The loss of biodiversity is not only an environmental issue but also a socio-economic one. Research has found that biodiversity in the form of ecosystem services such as food provision, carbon storage and water and air filtration has high economic value – worth more than 150 trillion US dollars per year. Biodiversity loss poses a significant threat to many businesses as they face higher raw material costs, as sources of food, fuel, structural materials and medicinal resources. are greatly reduced. Irreversible loss of species and changes in biodiversity and ecosystem processes are likely to lead to non-linear increase in costs to society in the long term, especially once the threshold of ecosystem resilience is crossed. There will not only be economic losses to society, but also social losses, as biodiversity greatly influences cultural, spiritual and social values.

Biodiversity loss and food insecurity

Biodiversity is the foundation of society’s food system. Not only is it the food we eat directly – such as domesticated and wild livestock and crops, and aquatic species – but it is also the variety of plans and organisms that are essential to the production processes that maintain healthy soils, regulate water and pollinate plants. .

The economic value of this contribution is considerable. Pollinating species, such as bees, birds, bats and many others, directly contribute between 5% and 8% of today’s global agricultural production, the annual value of which was US$235-577 billion. in 2015. A higher density of pollinator species leads to higher agricultural yields and their dramatic decline therefore poses a significant threat to the economy. As found by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)the loss of pollinating animals would result in a net welfare loss of approximately US$160-191 billion for crop consumers worldwide and an additional US$207-497 billion loss for growers and farmers. consumers in other markets.

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Food production has increased dramatically over the years to meet growing demand. One of the main indirect factors of this loss of biodiversity and damage to the ecosystem is population increase. Since the 1970s, during which the world’s human population more than doubled from 3.7 billion to 7.6 billion. One of the greatest risks posed by a growing population is increase in per capita consumption. As the population grew, habitat destruction such as deforestation also had to increase to make room for agricultural land. In addition, urban sprawl and transportation infrastructure are increasing pollution and global temperatures, critically altering key habitats.

Trends in agricultural production, fish harvesting, bioenergy production and material harvesting have increased in response to population growth, growing demand and expensive technological development. Between 1962 and 2017, it is valued that about 340 million hectares of new cropland have been created worldwide and 470 million hectares of natural ecosystems – about half the area of ​​China – have been converted to pasture. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has predicted that the number of endangered species increases in areas with high human population growth.

Are humans an invasive species?

Humans have been the cause of much ecological and economic damage around the world. The species’ unprecedented population growth has resulted in numerous examples of altered habitats, which have resulted in significant biodiversity losses. However, to be categorized as an invasive species, humans must also be non-native. Most anthropologists agree that Homo Sapiens originated in East Africa and managed to spread to all continents of the Earth. As humans continued to migrate and colonize previously inhabited parts of the earth, extinctions of large mammals ensued. By crossing the land bridge to North America around 15,000 years ago, humans contributed to the disappearance of large animals such as mammoths and mastodons mainly due to a increase in hunting activities.

As explored above, we can conclude that humans are an invasive species. As humans spread into previously uninhabited regions, the increase in population caused biodiversity losses even hundreds and thousands of years ago. This has continued to the present day and the ever-increasing human population is still significantly altering the ecosystem and causing serious economic and ecological costs to this day.

How can humans minimize their impact?

However, there are still ways to minimize these impacts. To live more in harmony with the habitat, there must be sustainable human development, focusing not only on the needs of societies but also on taking into account the threshold of the planet’s ecosystems. Exploitation of non-renewable resources alters habitat in unsustainable ways, and unrestricted human activity not only threatens surrounding biodiversity due to climate change, but also human life itself.

The best way to develop a more sustainable relationship with the planet and the ecosystem is to phase out fossil fuels and encourage the development and use of clean, renewable energy. Moreover, the promotion of education, alongside science and technology, is increasingly important to help understand the efficient use of natural resources and to promote human awareness and participation in education and environmental life. Finally, shifting to sustainable agricultural practices and promoting nature-based solutions for urban areas are extremely important steps to combat the increase in human population and the consequent increase in consumption globally. .

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