Sale of Rare Plants Could Spark Invasive Explosion

overgrown kudzu photo

A plant that is endangered in one place can be an invasive scourge in another. Photo credit: taberandrew/Creative Commons

An estimated 10 percent of the 753 plants on the United States Endangered Species List are sold or advertised online. Most of the buyers, a new study in Nature reports, are hobby horticulturalists looking to add something exotic to their home gardens.

However, an increasing number of buyers, some evidence suggests, are involved in 'assisted colonization' projects—programs in which individuals and community groups actively try to translocate endangered species outside their native range.SLIDESHOW: The World's Most Lovable Invasive Species

The problem is that species planted outside their normal range can thrive with unexpected vigor, especially under the effects of climate change. Already, invasive plants cost the United States an estimated $30 billion annually.

Some translocations are legal and well-monitored conservation efforts essential for species survival. Unfortunately, the new report suggests, governments have not taken the necessary leadership role to ensure these programs are conducted responsibly.

Moving plants out of their native habitat also presents a vector for the introduction of new pests and diseases.

Patrick Shirey and Gary Lamberti, authors of the study, suggest that:

Environmental agencies and governing bodies must better enforce existing species protection laws, and establish new legal frameworks to monitor and manage this rising tide of species redistribution.

Better enforcement of existing legislation, authors say—especially in regards to online transactions—should be the first step in curbing this alarming trend.

Read more about invasive species:
Invasive Species May Trigger Next Mass Extinction
Finance Site Lists Most Expensive Invasive Species
Destructive Impact of Invasive Species Measured In 57 Countries

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