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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.


B hypnorum NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_055983_Comp.jpg

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.  


The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international agreement under the UN umbrella that focuses on biodiversity information, conservation and sustainable use. Most of the World's countries have signed up to the CBD since it was initiated in 1992. It represents a common understanding of what biodiversity is; who owns and controls genetic resources; what information is needed to protect biodiversity and make decisions about its use; and how countries work together on all sorts of issues.


Dr Chris Lyal of the NHM has developed a lot of expertise on policy,  collaboration and capacity building under the CBD.  He is the focal  point for the UK for the Global Taxonomy Initative, a CBD programme that  aims to share taxonomic information and expertise. As a scientist, Chris is an expert on the taxonomy of weevils, a group of beetles that are significant crop pests - this involves deep knowledge of classification, naming and description of new species from around the world.


The Conference of the Parties to CBD (COP) is held every couple of years and COP 11 is currently being held in Hyderabad in central India.  Chris is there on behalf of the  NHM and has been in discussion with delegates from governments and other organisations on the science behind biodiversity and CBD initiatives.


One of the foci for CBD is invasive species.  There have always been natural patterns of change in the distribution of plants and animals. However, when humans cause species to be introduced - by accident or design - to new areas of the World they can cause major impacts.  They may become pests on crops or cause unexpected declines in natural biodiversity, for example, and can have huge economic costs. 


A new Global Invasive Alien Species Information Partnership has been formed to share and develop information on invasive species and to support development of expertise. Chris Lyal attended the inaugural signing of the partnership agreement and will be leading the NHM's contribution.


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Chris (standing) signing the GIASIP agreement on behalf of the NHM


There is considerable international interest in the impacts of invasive species on biodiversity.  Species are described as being invasive when they cause impacts on biodiversity outside their normal range as a result of introduction or spread as a consequence of human activity.  This impact can lead to loss of native species, spread of disease, impacts on native habitats or other effects.  They are often described as invasive alien species. In the marine environment this can happen as a result of transport by ships in ballast water, or migration through new sea routes such as the Suez Canal.

Recent work from the Museum provides more evidence that the flood of invasive Red Sea species entering the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal includes fish parasites.  Dr Hoda El-Rashidy (who obtained her PhD while researching in the Zoology Department at the NHM) and Prof Geoff Boxshall (Zoology) have described two more new species of parasitic copepods from Egyptian Mediterranean waters off the coast of Alexandria.


Their hosts, two species of Red Sea rabbitfish (Siganus luridus and S. rivulatus) have established populations in the Mediterranean. Invasive species often leave their parasites behind, due to the sampling effect of passing through a small founder population, but the continuing discovery of invasive parasitic copepods combined with the absence of any genetic evidence of a bottleneck in their host populations, highlights the remarkable scale of the faunal invasion of the eastern Mediterranean.


International concern and efforts to monitor and control impacts of invasive species are significant, with an EU Strategy,  a major focus from the Convention on Biological Diversity, and a UK Non-Native Species Secretariat.  Even on a city level here in London there is coordination on selected species such as Japanese knotweed and various invasive crayfish.

El-Rashidy, H.H. & Boxshall, G.A.  2011. Two new species of Parasitic Copepods (Crustacea) on two immigrant fishes from the Red Sea of Family Siganidae. Systematic Parasitology 19: 175-193. DOI 10.1007/s11230-011-9298-7


John Jackson is Science Policy Co-ordinator at the Natural History Museum.


The Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 (GBO3) published in May 2010 says that, ’The target agreed by the world’s Governments in 2002, “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth”, has not been met.’


Biodiversity loss is not slowing - Jonathan Ballie’s post refers to the Buchart et al. paper in Science that reaches that conclusion with scientific data. The CBD secretary’s note for Nagoya states that not a single country has reported that it has met the 2010 target “to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010”. For the UK, the 2010 JNCC Biodiversity Indicators in Your Pocket shows that things look good if you are a bat, but less good news for birds and plants.


GBO3 is a key document in looking forward from Nagoya and is well worth reading - straightforward and not too technical. It points to some progress on controlling pollution and managing protected areas, but otherwise the global picture looks grim: species diversity; genetic diversity; sustainable use and consumption; habitat loss; invasive species; climate change; access and benefit sharing; policy development; and other areas - for all of these the record is not good.


So a question for debate: 2020 will be the next set of targets. What is going to make this approach more of a success than 2010? What needs to change?


Twenty 2020 targets have been drafted for Nagoya, part of a 195-page document, and propose for agreement that by 2020 (a somewhat arbitrary selection):

  • Target 1: all people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.
  • Target 5: the rate of loss and degradation, and fragmentation, of natural habitats is [at least halved][brought close to zero].
  • Target 10: to have minimized the multiple pressures on coral reefs, and other vulnerable ecosystems impacted by climate change or ocean acidification, so as to maintain their integrity and functioning.
  • Target 12: the extinction and decline of known threatened species has been prevented and improvement in the conservation status [for at least 10% of them] has been achieved.
  • Target 14: ecosystems that provide essential services and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are safeguarded and/or restored and equitable access to ecosystem services is ensured for all, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities and the poor and vulnerable.
  • Target 19: knowledge, the science base and technologies relating to biodiversity, its values, functioning, status and trends, and the consequences of its loss, are improved, widely shared and transferred, and applied.


Ambitious? Extremely. Necessary? Absolutely. Practical? That is up to us.  What are we going to do now that will enable us all to congratulate ourselves on how well we have done since 2010?


Martin Spray became WWT's chief executive in 2004 but dates his passion for nature back to boyhood. His earliest memories include the thrill of finding butterfly chrysalis in the hedgerows near his London home and of charting the life cycles of frogs, newts and toads in the family’s tiny backyard pond.


Today he is building on all his past experiences to confirm the Trust as a leading international conservation organisation - protecting endangered wildlife, promoting the value of sustainable wetland management, conducting leading edge scientific research and giving people of all ages new and engaging opportunities to engage with the natural world for mutual benefit. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT)


As we reflect on the run up to Nagoya, I think it's fair to say that it's hard to be optimistic, but optimistic we must be.


Every nation around the world has failed to deliver on the 2010 target to stem biodiversity loss and we’re now even further away from where we started out. While it is understood that we are suffering the worst recession since the 1930s, evidence shows that if we don’t invest in natural systems like wetlands now, the cost to society may soon parallel or even exceed that of the banking crisis.


This is the challenge to which the negotiators at Nagoya must rise.


There is hope though. Evidence is mounting that taking action for biodiversity works for society and, if we work wisely by aligning our interests, aims and problems to the natural world, we can achieve what we want and redress biodiversity.


The UN’s REDD+ programme links action on climate change to conservation on the ground and the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study has grabbed the attention of business and government alike by putting a value on the benefit of building biodiversity into decisions.


To give an example from the field, I have colleagues who have been working in Koshi Tappu, Nepal, one of the most important wetlands for migratory birds in Asia. With their local partners they have helped rid the waterways of invasive plants by helping communities establish an economy based on harvesting those plants and turning them into fuel or compost.


Images: Harvesting invasive plants from waterways in Koshi Tappu, Nepal, one of the most important wetlands for migratory birds in Asia. © Matthew Simpson, WWT Consulting.


WWT’s hope is that what is agreed at Nagoya will clear the way for governments to put these initiatives into practice around the world – imagine a world in 2050 in which invasive species are fully under control, and the benefits are shared in an equitable way.


We are looking to the UK government to be a leader at the talks, but the real test will be once everyone has gone home. We will be watching closely to see whether the UK’s ambition in Nagoya is then reflected in its domestic policies. We can't keep justifying our actions based on economics without accounting for the natural world.


For example, there has been plenty of speculation that the Cardiff-Weston Severn barrage will be rejected because the economy can't support that level of investment. WWT, while supporting the need for more renewable energy generation, is not a supporter of that particular project, but wouldn’t it be disappointing if that is the sole reason for its rejection. The truth is that the economy and society more broadly can't afford the level of disruption that the barrage would cause to the natural world and that needs to be acknowledged.


Could the Nagoya agreement mean that such a destructive scheme will never be put forward in the name of climate change again?