A natural geographical range for a particular species is familiar - organisms have evolved to flourish in environments with particular combinations of temperature, rainfall, water and food availability, competition and many other factors. These are often described in terms of ecosystems, habitats or ecological niches.
However, species do appear in new places that can be remote from their original range. Some populations expand into new areas. The Collared Dove in Europe is a good example - it was first recorded regularly in the Balkans in the early 20th Century - having extended its range from Asia Minor - and spread across Europe gradually, reaching the UK in the 1950s. It is now a very familiar bird in the UK.
A relatively recent arrival to the UK is the Tree Bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum, which is native and widespread on the European mainland. It was first recorded in the UK in 2001 and is now widespread in England, particularly in the south.
Bombus hypnorum in the NHM wildlife garden
Other species are introduced to new areas deliberately or accidentally by human action. Deliberate introductions include Grey Squirrels and Canada Geese that were introduced from North America to the UK as ornamental animals, Japanese Knotweed as a garden plant and the Harlequin Ladybird to control pest insects - most have had unanticipated adverse impacts to a greater or lesser degree. Accidental introduction of the fungal Dutch Elm Disease in timber led to the death of around 20 million Elm trees in the 1970s, transforming the UK landscape. Recent concern has focused on Ash Dieback disease - Chalara - which is thought to have been introduced accidentally to the UK in 2012 and which has spread across southern England.
Some introduced species seem to have little impact, but many are of concern because they increase rapidly in the absence of normal controls such as predators, displacing native species or because they have economic impacts: these species of concern are often described as invasive. Governments therefore support research, monitoring and control for a wide range of invasive species.
Accurate knowledge and identification is essential if control is to be effective and the NHM's strengths in species identification and training have been important in supporting policy. The NHM became a founder partner of the international Global Invasive Alien Species Information Partnership last year by signing an MOC with the Convention on Biological Diversity. Chris Lyal is chair of the Partnership’s Interim Steering Committee and administers its Information Gateway, developed with the NHM Scratchpad Team.
In May 2013 Chris organised and hosted an international technical workshop for the partnership with EU funds obtained from the CBD, with 18 participants from key organisations around the world. The Workshop developed plans for the informatics infrastructure necessary to better access and deliver information, and advised on a range of Partnership activities. Chris also received EU funds through the CBD for populating the Information Gateway.