Aliens On The Horizon At IT Sligo

Alien species from other regions of the world are threatening Irish habitats – our freshwater, marine and terrestrial flora and fauna are facing aggressive competitors and predators.

Indeed, familiar invaders like Japanese knotweed and Zebra mussels are already here, reducing native biodiversity and causing real economic damage, at an annual cost of more than €250 million to the island of Ireland.

In order to mitigate the risks and be prepared to tackle these imminent threats when they first appear, we need to be able to identify which highly damaging species are knocking on the door of this island.

Enter a team of researchers from IT Sligo, Queen’s University Belfast and INVAS Biosecurity, Dublin, funded by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As well as tackling the prevention and management of existing alien species in Ireland, such as Asian clams and Winter heliotrope, the team has organised a ‘Horizon Scan’ – an exercise where scientists and policy makers forecast the most probable new invaders to arrive in the island of Ireland during the next decade.

This two-day workshop (April 19th & 20th) is hosted by IT Sligo and is co-funded by the EPA and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). It is co-organised by the project team and the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC).

The rhododendron, pictured here near the foot of Benbulben in County Sligo, is on Ireland’s Invasive species list. The plant, native to Portugal and Spain, was introduced here in the 19th century as an ornamental plant. The shade from its canopy of evergreen leaves eradicates all life beneath it and the plant can resist frost and survive fire. It provides an ongoing threat to Ireland’s woodlands.

“For this “Horizon Scan” exercise, we are assessing the likelihood of arrival and potential impacts of many damaging species that could arrive on the island of Ireland tomorrow,” says Dr Frances Lucy, Head of Department of Environmental Science at IT Sligo.

“This is a crucial step in preparation for their arrival, so that we can act swiftly to prevent ecological and economic damage, when they are detected.’

The 45 visiting experts on freshwater, terrestrial and marine systems will include representatives from all relevant environmental agencies from both jurisdictions and scientists and practitioners from Ireland and the UK.

Professor Jaimie Dick of Queen’s University said: “On this island we have unique and essential animal and plant communities that service our needs, such as water, food, recreation and tourism. We must assess the newest threats to these from alien species – forewarned is forearmed!”

“The Horizon Scan is an integral part of a series of far-reaching measures that provide the focus for our EPA project, which aims to prevent, control and eradicate invasive species,” says Professor Joe Caffrey of INVAS Biosecurity.

“Globally, the numbers of invasive species are growing as they spread from one continent to another and across borders. Ireland, as an island, has a great opportunity to keep these species out and to comply with the new EU Invasive Species Regulation.”

The ‘Horizon Scan’ Invasive Species workshop takes place at IT Sligo on April 19th and 20th.

For more information, please contact Dr Frances Lucy. Email


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