Archived content - Invasive Alien Species

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As the world becomes increasingly global in trade and population movement, and as climate shifts modify habitat ranges, an unfortunate migratory phenomenon is on the rise that is seeing unwelcome pests find their way to new homes around the planet. Their impact can range from nuisance to downright devastation, and one sector particularly at risk from these invasions is agriculture.

The new arrivals are particularly troublesome because the checks and balances that would otherwise keep their numbers under control are often absent in their new environment. They can outcompete or overwhelm the defences of established species and planted crops, resulting in huge economic and environmental damage, and can even pose a threat to human and animal health.

It has been estimated that losses to Canada's agriculture industry in addressing the fallout caused by the invaders have been about $2.2 billion a year. The costs are attributed to lower yields, increased pest control expenses, and loss of markets due to trade and transport restrictions.

The range of invasive alien species is broad, and includes insects and weeds, as well as nematodes and disease-causing micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. About 60 per cent of Canada's serious weed and insect pests are nonnative, and more are doubtless on the way.

Leafy spurge plant, an alien invasive plant species

The scope of the threat presented by invasive alien species requires a coordinated approach that pools all the necessary expertise the country has to offer to counter the threat. The Invasive Alien Species (IAS) Strategy for Canada, implemented by a number of federal departments and agencies, directs the national effort to address these issues.

At Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, scientists conduct IAS-related activities on a number of fronts. Research programs focus on taxonomy, systematics, collections, IAS impacts and mitigation strategies. Complementary activities include management practice assessments, field demonstrations and technology transfer.

Specific projects include the investigation of biocontrol strategies using host-specific predators or other foes from the invader's original habitat to keep it in check; developing diagnostic tools to identify and monitor the movement of invasive species; addressing invasive alien threats to native biodiversity; using DNA sequencing to develop tests to detect and quantify microbial species; and developing and managing the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, an essential reference resource that acts as the first line of defence when assessing a threat.

Wheat stem rust, on alien invasive fungal

Some of the established and spreading invaders under scrutiny include leafy spurge in rangelands and Swede midge in canola, and the leek moth that has restricted trade with the U.S. Likely new arrivals still in transit are Ug99 wheat stem rust and Asian soybean rust.

Much of this research contributes to efforts to address IAS by other government agencies, universities and colleges, and stakeholder organizations. The research results will contribute to the preservation and protection of biological and environmental resources, help ensure the long-term profitability of the agricultural sector, and the health and wellbeing of all Canadians.

Some research projects addressing invasive alien species:

  • Understanding and Assessing Invertebrate Biodiversity

  • Development of Novel Biological Control Strategies for Invasive Alien Plant Management with Insects: Improving Predictions, Efficacy and Safety

  • Invasive Plants of Agro-Ecosystems: Distribution, Dynamics Involved and Potential Management Strategies

  • Canadian Plant Biodiversity Research and Documentation in Support of Agriculture and Native Bioresource Protection

  • Coordinated Monitoring, Forecasting and Risk Warning system for Insect Pests of Field Crops in Canada

  • Detection, Surveillance and Management of Weed, Insect and Disease Pests that Threaten the Economic Viability of Crop Production and the Environmental Health of Prairie Agro-Ecosystems

  • Understanding Trophic and Community Influences on Biological Control of Arthropod Pests of Brassicaceae Crops to Improve Advice and Protocols for Regulation of Exotic Biological Control Agents

  • Canadian Taxonomic Information System

  • Pest Plants: Biology and Genetic Diversity, Impacts on and Protection of Canadian Agriculture

  • Microbial Observatories: A Paradigm Shift in Monitoring Bacteria and Fungi in Agro-Ecosystems

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 2009

Catalogue No. A52-168/2009E-PDF
ISBN 978-1-100-14021-6
AAFC No. 11053E

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