Aliens Invade Europe: 22% of Old World Mammals Are Invasive Species

They bring disease and can cause wide-ranging changes to indigenous habitats.
Grey squirrels have caused the extinction of red squirrels in many parts of Britain. (Tim Graham/Getty Images)
Sep 17, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

If you’re planning a trip to Europe any time soon, here’s a headline that might grab your attention: “Watch Out: Alien Mammals On the Rise.”

The connection between alien creatures and the Continent was highlighted yesterday in a story on Yahoo that reported, “Whether they escaped from zoos or accompanied migrating nomads, invasive species from giant Himalayan bats and porcupines to house mice now account for 22 percent of mammals in Europe.”

How exactly do you identify one of these aliens? According to the British Columbia government website they travel under many aliases: “Alien species are plants, animals and microorganisms from one part of the world that are transported beyond their natural range and become established in a new area. They are sometimes also called ‘exotic,’ ‘introduced,’ ‘non-native,’ ‘non-indigenous’ or ‘invasive’ species.”

MORE: U.S. Bound: Japanese Tsunami Junk Carries Invasive Species

And these guys aren’t messing around. The Global Environmental Governance Project says, “Invasive species spread disease that can be devastating to human health . . . Increased transportation and accessibility have allowed for new interaction between diseases and human hosts. Many non-native species can act as reservoirs for disease, including insects, rodents, and birds, which carry diseases such as yellow fever and malaria.”

You may have read about all the non-native species of fish that have been introduced into the Great Lakes. The Environmental Protection Agency notes that there have been 25 such entries since the 1800s and that, “These fish have had significant impacts on the Great Lakes food web by competing with native fish for food and habitat. Invasive animals have also been responsible for increased degradation of coastal wetlands; further degrading conditions are resulting in loss of plant cover and diversity.”

Back in Europe The Guardian reported in January that, “There is a war going on in the parks, gardens, ponds, rivers and greenhouses of Britain. At stake is the future of the country's native flora and fauna. This time it's not just under threat from the usual foes—lorry parks and a tendency to pave over front gardens—but from the 2,000-plus non-native species of animals and plants that are estimated to have found their way here.”

Yahoo adds that, “As predators, mammals have played an out-size role in past extinctions—for instance, rats have caused 40-60 percent of all seabird and reptile extinctions.”

What can be done about all this? Europe and the U.S. both spend a lot of money each year trying to control the introduction of alien species, but the Prairie Fire (reporting on an invasion of zebra mussels in Nebraska, of all places) suggests a bit of knowledge might help too.

“By far the most important thing you can do to help prevent the spread or introduction of invasive species is to educate yourself. Learn what nonnative species are in your area and what their impacts are. Remove nonnative plants and animals from your yard, where feasible . . . And, most importantly, pass on what you have learned to others.”

Are you concerned about the introduction of alien species, or do you think this is all just a part of the circle of life?

Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence |

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