Spanish ecosystems threatened by invasive insects, fish and plants

by Lorraine Williamson
Ants threaten Spanish ecosystems

MADRID – Invasive species such as the fire ant, the Asian loach, or the Ngaio tree are an increasing threat to Spanish ecosystems. For the Spanish government, therefore, it has the highest priority to prevent the spread of these species. 

More and more exotic species, also known as exotics, are occurring in Spain. They are animals and plants that did not originally occur in Spain but ended up there through human intervention. However, some exotics are harmful to the ecosystem and are therefore labelled as ‘invasive’. If it is up to the Spanish Ministry of Ecological Transition, the possession, transport, and trade of some invasive species will be banned as soon as possible. 

‘Invasive exotics’ threaten Spanish ecosystems

The government has now declared several ant species, a fish, a plant, and almost the entire family of mongooses and meerkats ‘invasive exotics’. If that status is approved, it will be prohibited by law to possess, transport, and trade the species. Consequently, the government hopes this will slow down the threatening plague of invasive species. 

Advancing fire ant very aggressive 

The Solenopsis invicta, also called red fire ant, is a small insect of about 4 mm that has already left burning itchy bumps on many people. The UN warned almost 15 years ago about the spread of this very aggressive ant that spreads at lightning speed. Moreover, they eat everything they encounter in their path; from cockroaches and beetles to dead snakes, plants and crops. They eat through the wiring of traffic lights and destroy entire crops. The economic damage is great. The ant, which is native to Paraguay and Brazil, was first discovered in Málaga in 2006. Here, an ant bite then led to a case of ‘anaphylaxis’, a severe allergic reaction with potentially serious consequences. The fire ant would have ended up on Spanish territory via imported wood. 

Prevention is better than cure 

Invasive species experts advocate a preventive approach. It is more effective and cheaper to intervene adequately before the species spread. If this intervention is not done in time, this could have far-reaching consequences, both economically and ecologically. For example, the red palm beetle has already caused enormous damage to Spanish palm trees. So much so, the insect is in the top 10 invasive species that caused the most damage to Spanish ecosystems. 

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Reservoir lake drained due to invasive fish 

In Vallvidrera (Barcelona) the authorities drained a large reservoir for more than 2.5 months a year and a half ago. The reason is the ‘culling’ of the Paramisgurnus dabryanus, an alien and invasive species of fish native to Southeast Asia. According to the Catalan government, this invasive species has ‘a negative effect’ on other invertebrate populations in the ecosystem. And, therefore, can seriously disrupt the balance. The species may also introduce parasites into indigenous communities.” 

The reservoir was eventually drained for months. The sludge had to dry up well because the fish species can absorb oxygen from the air and, when drained, is able to survive in the mud layer of the reservoir for up to two years. Unfortunately, the conclusion after the completion of the project is that the fish can still be found in the reservoir. 

Most headaches about plant invasive species 

Although the Asian loach and the red fire ant may appeal more to the imagination, it is mainly alien, invasive plants such as ‘Pampas grass’ and ‘Big loosestrife’ that cause Spain a headache. The Myoporum laetum, also known as the ngaio tree – an evergreen shrub from New Zealand – is now invading the Spanish coastline. More than 10 years ago, the Spanish Ministry of the Environment described the species as an ‘escaped garden plant’, which was already appearing more and more in the dunes by then. Meanwhile, the expansion drive of the invasive plant has meant that Spain has to pull out all the stops to rid the coastal dunes of the species. 

Also read: Python captured in Málaga

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