Invasive exotic species: how much are they costing us?

  • 08.04.2021

The issue of invasive exotic species remains underestimated, even though they are known to be the second greatest threat to biodiversity. Indeed, invasive exotic species represent a major cause of native species extinction of disruption to human health, and of economic collapse in some sectors. To raise awareness of the issue, a team of researchers spent five years calculating the worldwide economic impact of these species since the 1970s. One hundred specialists from 39 countries contributed to this enlightening scientific study, enabled by the InvaCost database and funded by the BNP Paribas Foundation.

Biological invasions cost at least USD 27 billion a year

They reached a total cumulated outlay of USD 1.3 trillion between 1970 and 2017– just USD 163 billion in 2017 alone – and cost is rising. This is the minimum reported cost based on the findings of the study published at the end of March 2021, entitled “High and rising economic costs of biological invasions worldwide”, conducted by a team of scientists at CNRS (the French National Centre for Scientific Research) and Université Paris-Saclay, led by Franck Courchamp, Research Director at CNRS.

The researchers demonstrate how these costs have doubled every six years and even tripled every 10 years over the period they surveyed. They also explain how the situation is further exacerbated by booming international trade and climate change, which both significantly influence the displacement and import of species. This estimate is based on existing and known data compiled using the InvaCost database.

Invasive species threaten the balance of native ecosystems in the regions they infest and therefore affect most sectors that are reliant on their environment, including farming, food industry, public health, infrastructure and real estate.

The economic costs of biological invasions: key figures

$1.3 trillion

between 1970 and 2017

$163 billion

in 2017

$27 billion

each year

The risks posed by biological invasions

Invasive exotic species are “imported” plants or animals – often introduced deliberately or inadvertently by humans – whose presence harms the native ecosystem. When these alien species spread and proliferate, they colonize the local environment and upset its biodiversity – we refer to it as a “biological invasion”. Not all exotic species (whether deliberately introduced or not) are invasive, and some adapt to their new habitats without threatening the native ecosystem. There are about 20,000 exotic species in Europe, of which 5,000 are considered invasive.  

Invasive exotic species spread disease, destroy farmland, forests, fishing areas and natural water bodies, and damage pipe networks, electric equipment, infrastructure, buildings and more. Their toll on the world economy is huge.

Examples are legion. To name a few: the tiger mosquito spreads diseases in France; the fire ant is responsible for 100,000 hospitalizations in the United States; the zebra mussel plagues Canada’s Great Lakes and releases toxins into the wild; the water hyacinth clogs pipes and damages infrastructure; and even cats are responsible for the disappearance of hundreds of species of birds, snakes and rodents on several islands all over the world.

Lionfish // Invacost - Climate & Biodiversity Initiative
Fire ant - Invacost // Climate & Biodiversity Initiative
Water hyacinth - Invacost // Climate & Biodiversity Initiative

The InvaCost database, supported by the BNP Paribas Foundation

These findings were obtained thanks to the InvaCost database (Invasive Insects and Their Cost Following Climate Change), a research project financed by the BNP Paribas Foundation and the AXA Research Fund for the Invasion Biology Chair. This InvaCost project, which is jointly run by CNRS, Université Paris-Saclay and Écologie Systématique et Évolution, aims to forecast massive insect invasions in order to prevent them and protect biodiversity, economies and public health.
The study entitled “High and rising economic costs of biological invasions worldwide” is directly based on the information and material collected in this database. In the future, InvaCost should enable researchers to estimate the cost of biological invasions in real time
Finally, the study emphasizes the fact that the cost of preventive measures is 10-times lower than the cost of repairing the damage. With this figure, the research team stresses that implementing preventive measures and management policies could become an international priority.

The BNP Paribas Foundation and the environment: supporting scientific research on climate change and biodiversity

Since 2010, the BNP Paribas Foundation significantly supports research teams committed to understanding the effects of climate change on our planet's biodiversity and its evolution, while raising public awareness.Through its international philanthropy program, the Climate & Biodiversity Initiative, the Foundation has already supported 18 research projects with a total budget of €12 million and reached more than 400 000 people to raise their awareness of environmental issues.

From 2020 to 2022, the Foundation will fund 9 new international research projects on biodiversity with a total budget of €6 million.

Find out more about the Foundation's environmental commitments

Photos -  header: Emerald ash borer ©Stephen Ausmus
Lion fish ©Mathijs Vos / Unsplash - Fire ant ©Aoyama Y. / Okinawa Environmental Research Support Section - Water hyacinth ©Anna Turbelin

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