How well is Canada prepared to manage current and future invasive species threats to biodiversity?

A cluster of zebra mussells
Zebra mussel invasions might have been preventable with better biosecurity efforts.

Organisms that get introduced outside their native ranges — the areas in which they evolved — are often referred to as invasive species. Invasive species can threaten native species by increasing competition for limited resources, altering habitat structure, and bringing in new diseases.

The practice of preventing and controlling current and future invasive species outbreaks is referred to here as biosecurity.

Read this open access paper on the FACETS website.

Invasive species pose biosecurity risks by contributing to biodiversity loss as native species’ populations decrease, sometimes to extinction. Along with serious biodiversity impacts, invasive species can also be harmful to the economy by interfering with important industries such as agriculture, fisheries, and forestry.

The longer invasive species are “established” (present and reproducing), the more difficult they are to manage, and their longer-lasting impacts become more severe. For this reason, invasive species management is most successful when efforts are proactive, focusing on preventing establishment rather than dealing with the long-term costs of control.

Among the Canadian federal government’s commitments to biodiversity following the Convention on Biological Diversity was the goal of identifying invasive species and the ways that they would likely enter Canada, as well as implementing strategic management plans for high-risk species, by the year 2020. We undertook this analysis to find out how well we have been meeting this goal, what work remains to be done, and how prepared Canada is to repel future invasions.

To do this, we looked at what unique challenges and opportunities Canada faces in preventative invasive species management, and how our federal coordination of biosecurity efforts compares with those in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, as each of these countries face similar challenges and provide lessons that we can learn from. Notable practices Canada might consider include shifting management priorities (e.g., valuing threats to biodiversity in addition to industry) and consolidating/centralising agencies involved in management efforts.

We present four examples of past and upcoming cases of invasive species management in Canada, comparing the efficacy of prevention efforts in each case.

Historically, zebra and quagga mussel invasions might have been preventable with greater potential detection capabilities, whereas Asian longhorned beetles were better anticipated and thus far eradicated prior to establishment.

Proactive management efforts are in place for Asian carp, including multinational monitoring efforts and well-publicised community reporting. The same cannot be said for the spotted lanternfly, another likely invader, whose biodiversity and economic impacts are less well-characterised.

Since climate change, increased global trade, and other large-scale changes are also a major concern, we also explore how these phenomena might interact with future invasive species management efforts.

Finally, we synthesize our findings in six lessons on how we can improve biosecurity in Canada at the federal level: increase how much we value biodiversity; bolster the organisation of federal responses to invasive species; improve partnerships with local communities, Indigenous Peoples, other stakeholders, and even other countries; prepare to adapt to a rapidly changing and uncertain future; and be ready to deal with conflicts that might come up among the many peoples and groups involved in invasive species management.

Read the paper —The state of Canada’s biosecurity efforts to protect biodiversity from species invasions by Connor H. Reid, Emma J. Hudgins, Jessika D. Guay, Sean Patterson, Alec M. Medd, Steven J. Cooke, and Joseph R. Bennett


FACETS is a multidisciplinary open access science journal.