Surveillance and research on alien species.

Every year, new species arrive in Norway. Some of these pose a threat to the native natural diversity and can cause substantial financial costs. NINA is one of the strongest academic communities in Norway in developing the field of knowledge on alien species. We conduct research and surveillance on plants, fungi and animals, both on land and in water.

Every year, both natural and anthropogenic species are distributed into and around Norway. Some may go unnoticed, whilst others can have a great effect on native nature. Photo: NINA.

Nature is forever changing and what species exist in a given area will always vary. Organisms are moving as a result of climate change, stock changes, or as a result of human assistance. Some are deliberately introduced whilst others come as stowaways or contaminants, for example in ballast water, on imported plants  and foodstuffs, or hidden in clothes and luggage. A certain amount of such immigration is completely natural, but too many invaders can pose a risk to local ecosystems. In fact, the proliferation of alien species is considered one of the greatest threats to the world's biodiversity.

What is an alien species?

The term "alien species" includes all species that have been propagated outside their natural range by means of human activity. This also includes subspecies, local varieties of species, and man-made varieties such as livestock breeds and cultivated plants. The spread is not limited to national borders, but can also include spreading within the country, such as the launching of pike in waterways where the species could not spread to itself.

Alien species harm local nature in several ways: For example, new species coming in can change the environment and outperform indigenous species. This is especially critical if it affects species that are already threatened for other reasons. Alien species can also bring their own stowaways, such as parasites and new diseases. They can also interfere with indigenous species and in some cases reduce overall genetic diversity.

It can be hard to define an alien organism, especially when this applies to variants of a species. In order to best map and monitor alien species, we need a good overview of the natural diversity of Norway to begin with and the history of a species: For example, how do we treat the return of wild boar to Norway after a period of national extinction? Or the roe deer that first wandered into the country in the 20th century?
Whatever the reason for the spread of a new species, it is important for the management of nature that they are monitored, and that we investigate the effect on indigenous nature. Many species will be impossible to remove from ecosystems once they have established themselves. So the most effective measures are those of early detection and mapping of the spread for continued monitoring and management.

NINA’s work on alien species requires many methodologies, from laboratories to field surveys, and experimenting with new technology. Photo: NINA

What are we doing at NINA?

NINA conducts research, risk and consequence assessments, mapping and monitoring of foreign species in Norway and the Artic, as well as the development and evaluation of measures against them. Alongside this, we develop new methods to ensure efficiency and quality of our work. For example,  effective monitoring and control of both alien species and the pathways they follow into Norwegian nature, requires a relevant and constantly updated database for species and genotype identification. NINA is working on developing such a database solution to help understand and combat the impact of alien species. 

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