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Climate change and invasive species

By: Mackenzie DiGasparro, ISC Policy & Program Intern

Climate change has already had observable effects on our environment. Science predicts that temperatures will continue to rise, growing seasons will lengthen, rainfall and severe weather patterns will change, and droughts and heat waves will become more intense. There are many ways to help mitigate the progression and impacts of climate change, but did you know that helping prevent the spread of invasive species is one of them? 

The relationship between climate change and invasive species is partially rooted in climate change adaptation. Climate change adaptation is the act of adjusting our behaviour and practices to manage current and future changes in climate. One adaptation strategy is to protect ecosystems from the effects of climate change by reducing non-climatic stressors that can impact ecosystem resiliency. Invasive species are one of these stressors. 

Invasive species are a top five threat to global biodiversity and have been cited as the second leading threat associated with species extinctions since 1500. Through their negative impacts on biodiversity, invasive species can cause serious harm to an ecosystem’s resiliency to change. The effects of invasive species in an ecosystem can amplify the effects of climate change, for example by making an area more susceptible to fire and drought. In turn, by managing invasive species, our actions protect ecosystem resiliency and can help mitigate climate change (for example, by protecting forests that act as carbon sinks and buffers for flood and runoff).

This relationship between invasive species and climate change is a two-way street, where invasive species amplify the effects of climate change, and the effects of climate change can also compound the spread and impacts of invasive species. A warming climate creates new opportunities for invasions, including range expansions and access to new shipping channels. Range expansions allow organisms to survive in regions where they previously couldn’t tolerate the environment or conditions. Southern parts of Canada were previously the northern-most range for many harmful invasive species, and as temperatures increase this range is moving farther into Canada. Ice-loss that has been occurring in the Arctic has opened new channels that could be used for shipping, bringing increased potential for the introduction of invasive species into the region – which would be detrimental to Arctic ecosystems. 

Climate change is a global issue, and you can do your part to protect biodiversity in your area by preventing the spread of invasive species!