Fewer invasive species in natural areas of indigenous populations

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Fig. 1: ’Robinia, native to North America, has been introduced to many reg
Fig. 1: ’Robinia, native to North America, has been introduced to many regions of the world and is changing forests in many regions.’ C: Franz Essl.

Sustainable land use as a key to combating alien species

The introduction of plant and animal species into new regions by humans is increasing rapidly worldwide. Some of these non-native species have a massive impact as they upset the balance of ecosystems. It was previously unclear whether there are differences in the spread of such invasive species between areas cared for by indigenous populations and other regions. An international research team led by the University of Giessen and with the participation of Franz Essl from the University of Vienna found that there are significantly fewer invasive species in areas with indigenous populations than in comparable natural areas and provides exciting background information on this. The study was published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Thousands of plant and animal species have now settled in foreign regions because they were introduced by humans. "Some non-native species are becoming a problem for native species - as predators, competitors for food and habitat or carriers of diseases," explains biodiversity researcher Franz Essl from the University of Vienna, one of the co-authors of the study. The displacement of plants and animals is man-made. Researchers are now asking themselves whether there are fewer alien species in areas managed by indigenous populations than in comparable regions. Indigenous populations include all ethnic groups that usually settled in these regions long before the arrival of Europeans - such as the Native Americans, the Aborigines of Australia or the Sami in Scandinavia.

Areas of indigenous populations have few non-native species

Globally, 28% of the land surface is inhabited by indigenous populations, with the majority of these areas located in remote regions of the world. Many of these areas are of enormous importance for the conservation of biodiversity, as they are often located in biodiversity hotspots such as the Amazon or in wilderness areas such as the Arctic. "Indigenous populations have been managing and using these areas sustainably for a long time, which means that the loss of biodiversity there is significantly lower than in many other areas of the world," says Franz Essl.

The researchers analyzed millions of data points on the distribution of non-native plant and animal species in order to answer this question comprehensively for the first time. "The results were impressive," explains Hanno Seebens, the lead author of the study. "Compared to other areas, there are a third fewer non-native species in areas inhabited by indigenous peoples." The researchers attribute this enormous difference primarily to lower land use, a higher proportion of forests and a smaller transport network in indigenous areas.

Sustainable land use as the key to preserving biodiversity

These results show the enormous importance of sustainable land use to prevent the spread of alien species - and to protect biodiversity in general. "Indigenous populations usually use their regions traditionally and sustainably. This shows that protecting the rights of these populations is also essential for the protection of biodiversity - for example in areas such as the Amazon region or in Southeast Asia, where the overexploitation of forests is a massive problem," concludes Franz Essl.

Original publication:

Seebens H, Niamir A, Essl F, Garnett ST, Kumagai JA, Molnar Z, Saeedi H, Meyerson LA (2024) Biological invasions on Indigenous peoples’Ílands. Nature Sustainability.

DOI: 10.1038/s41893’024 -01361-3