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Invasive insects and climate change : Impact on the world economy

  • 05.10.2016

For the first time, a team of researchers is now attempting to put a figure on the economic damage caused by these invasive species.

A new study

Invasive insects cause at least 69 billion euros of damage per annum worldwide. Such is the estimation made by an international research team led by Franck Courchamp, CNRS research director at Laboratoire Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution (Université Paris-Sud/CNRS/AgroParisTech) and notably including entomologists from IRD Montpellier and a CNRS economist. Their study brought together the largest database ever developed on economic damage attributable to invasive insects worldwide. Covering damage to goods and services, health care costs and agricultural losses, this study, conducted with the support of ANR and the BNP Paribas Foundation, considered 737 articles, books and reports. This work was published in Nature Communications on 4 October 2016.

Why study insects?

For thousands of years, insects have been responsible for the spread of diseases in humans and livestock, and cause considerable damage on many levels: from attacks on crops and stocks, through the destruction of infrastructure, to the devastation of forests, altering and weakening ecosystems.  In the living world, insects alone (about 2.5 million species) are probably the group responsible for the greatest expense. In addition, they are among the most aggressive invasive species: 87% of 2500 terrestrial invertebrates that have colonized new territories are insects.   

Underestimated damage

According to researchers, the estimated cost of $77 billion is widely underestimated. A number of regions in the world do not provide sufficient economic data to be able to produce an exact estimate, which is therefore understated. Moreover, the team of researchers focused on studying the ten most expensive invasive species. Ideally, all of those which cause lesser damage, but which combined could represent colossal amounts, must be added. Another reason could also drastically increase this estimated cost just as quickly: the difficulty for researchers to assess the monetary value of “services” provided by nature (ecosystem services) the quality of which may be affected by the invasion of insects. 

A Damocles sword hanging over health and agriculture

Even more worrying, insects in general weigh greatly on agriculture by consuming around 40% of agricultural production. “The equivalent of enough food to feed one million humans”, highlights Franck Courchamp. Among the main farming nations affected by this threat, China and the United States represent the biggest risks in terms of this threat. 

In terms of health, the overall cost attributed to invasive insects exceeds $6.9bn per year. These costs do not take into account malaria, for which the majority of spending is not related to an infestation but to an insect which is naturally present. Moreover, this assessment excludes the economic impact on productivity, revenue, tourism, blood supplies, individual protection measures and quality of life. Most of the estimates for health costs are a combination of direct and indirect costs which are often related to medical care.

According to the research team, greater vigilance and the implementation of response procedures for a biological invasion would help society save tens of billions of euros. These preventive measures could divide the cost of mosquito-borne diseases by at least ten

Researchers suggest, among other measures: strategic spending in the funding of research into the assessment and prevention of invasive species, the implementation of countermeasures adapted to each threat and the support of public awareness campaigns on the risks of introducing certain species. Finally, there is a major need to develop the network of associations in order for measures to fight against these invasive species are extended on the ground.  

A study published in the framework of the Climate Initiative Program 

This study was funded under the Climate Initiative, a corporate philanthropy programme for research into climate change launched in 2010 by the BNP Paribas Foundation, in close cooperation with the BNP Paribas Group’s Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility department. In total, 10 climate research projects have been or are currently supported through this programme.

INVACOST

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Invasive Insects and their Cost Following Climate Change. Researchers know that certain organisms – both plants and animals – react to rising temperatures and change their behavior or usual habitats. A massive insect invasion will have far-reaching consequences. But what are the risks? To answer this question, the Université Paris Sud and the CNRS are studying twenty different insect species.

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