The Iron Curtain Stopped Invasive Species

iron curtain photo

Image credit: duluoz cats/Flickr

At the end of Word War II, the proverbial "Iron Curtain" fell between Western Europe and the Soviet Union. The barrier, which was as much a real obstacle—defended by soldiers and tanks—as it was a symbolic divide, prevented travel, trade, and communication between the two halves of the continent.

Now, new research is suggesting that the barrier intended to isolate people and economies, also worked to keep invasive species out.

cold war graphic photo

Image credit: Oregon State University/Flickr

Susan Shirley, a researcher with the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, has found that prior to the Cold War, Western Europe had 36 non-European introduced species and Eastern Europe had 11. By the time the Iron Curtain began to fall in 1989, Western Europe had 54 non-European introduced bird species. In Eastern Europe, however, the number had decreased to only five.

Shirley explains that:

The isolation of the Eastern European bloc from the west during the Cold War led to a decline in the number of birds introduced, the number of introduction events and the number of bird species established.

International trade, she argues, is the major mechanism for the introduction of species. Though, in theory, birds have no reason to abide by international boundaries, Shirley shows that species tend to remain in native habits. The release—be it intentional or accidental—of exotic birds kept as pets is the major driver for non-native bird species introductions in Europe. The Iron Curtain prevented such trade and as a result reduced the opportunities for species introductions.

The barrier between Eastern and Western Europe is, of course, long gone. Never the less, Shirley's findings have serious implications for the world today. She commented that:

Global trade is a real concern for invasive species, and the lessons we can learn from the Cold War offer a warning flag to developing countries that are now expanding in an international economy.

The isolation of the Soviet Union during the Cold War could help conservationists understand the impact aggressive species regulation and monitoring policies would have today.

Read more about invasive species:
The World's Most Lovable Invasive Species
Eating Aliens: Are Invasive Species Ethical Food?
Epic Fail: Efforts to Fight Invasive Species Could Cause 'Ecosystem Meltdown'

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