Prevention of the introduction of new invasive species to a country is considered to be an effective measure against
biological invasions. The growth of online sellers, however, makes the regulation of plant introductions much more challenging — a
new plant is only a few clicks away and can be bought very easily. There is also no local seller in-between who can inform buyers about
the risks of invasive plants and propose alternative plants.
A new study by C·I·B associate, Christoph Kueffer, now shows that internet trade of invasive plants is
indeed very active. Christoph and colleagues have monitored for 50 days which species of 23 flowering plant families were offered on
eBay.com and nine other online sellers. In total 2 625 species were on sale including 510 species that are invasives. This means that
40% of all invasive species that were considered in the study are available to buyers.
This percentage was much higher than for non-invasive species, where only about 1 out of 100 species is being traded.
“It appears that on the Internet not only many of the most invasive plants can be easily bought, but also invasive species
are much more frequently offered than non-invasive ones.” says Christoph, senior scientist at the Department of Environmental
Systems Science of ETH Zurich, Switzerland.
The study surveyed only a fraction of online sellers, only for a relatively short time period, and it searched only for
Latin names. Christoph added, “Our study is likely to underestimate the true number of invasive plants that is traded via the
internet. It may well be that a majority of known invasive plants is easily available on the Internet. Many buyers will not know that
they are ordering a plant that might later destroy biodiversity at home.”
The authors propose that automated monitoring of the online trade can help to scan for new potentially invasive species
that have only recently been introduced to global trade. These species can then be regulated before they become a problem. Sellers based
in South Africa for instance offer many different plant species to buyers around the world, and most of them are offered from no other
place in the world. To date, few of them have become invasive, but maybe it is only a matter of time before they do?
The authors have monitored for 50 days which species of plants were offered on ten online sellers, including eBay.com.
Read the paper:
Humair, F., Humair, L, Kuhn, F.,
Kueffer, C. (2015) E-commerce trade in invasive plants. Conservation Biology, in press. Doi: 10.1111/cobi.12579
For more information, contact Christoph Kueffer at firstname.lastname@example.org