Aliens amongst us

The Environment & Resources Agency (ERA) details the impact of invasive alien species on local flora and fauna.
Mirabilis Jalapa

Many people might not be aware of the various non-native or alien species that inhabit our Islands. These alien species are animals, plants, fungi, and other organisms which may have been introduced intentionally or by accident.

While some may seem harmless, others can proliferate and spread, threatening our native wildlife and even our health, these harmful organisms are known as invasive alien species (IAS).

However, it is relevant to know that not all alien species are invasive. In reality, an alien species is simply one that was not originally found in a particular habitat and many may not thrive or reproduce much, but most importantly they will not harm the ecosystems, in their introduced range.

Think about all the non-native houseplants we have – they are alien to our homes, but they add beauty without causing harm. For a species to be deemed as an invasive alien, it must show the ability to survive and thrive in the local ecosystem.

Often such species are highly adaptable to different environmental conditions, which makes it harder to control their spread. Driven by this concern, Environment & Resources Agency (ERA) is ramping up its awareness campaign with the goal of educating the public on the dangers of importing or buying these seemingly idyllic species.

The Signal Crayfish

Concerns on the harm caused by IAS is a worldwide issue. IAS may include species which often captivate us with their vibrant colours or alluring appearance and may tempt us to plant them in our gardens or keep them as pets. Such as the Garden Nasturtium (il-kapuċċinella/il-kaboċċinella), Marvels of Peru (il-ħummejr) and the Crimson Fountain Grass (il-pjuma/il-penniżetum), which have escaped and invaded natural habitats including valleys, water courses and garrigues.  A cause for concern is that IAS may threaten native species through competition for food, resources and space as well as damage habitats. Moreover, the disappearance of a native species goes beyond ecological damage. It represents the destruction of our cultural heritage, which is deeply connected to the natural world around us.

In the local scene, the non-native Red Swamp Crayfish (iċ-ċkala l-ħamra tal-ilma ħelu) and the Levant Water Frog (il-qorru/iż-żrinġ l-għarib) are two invasive species that are currently threatening the Painted Frog, our only native frog in Malta.  These two invasive species are invading the habitats of the Painted Frog (iż-żrinġ) in places like Chadwick Lakes and are of concern. Their presence has also been recorded in man-made reservoirs and ponds revealing that they were intentionally released irresponsibly in such locations.

ERA is continuously working towards educating the public on the harm such invaders cause to our local sphere and is keeping records of where IAS are encountered.  This data, in turn, is crucial to help keep their numbers low and manage their spread, however, this alone is not enough.  Efforts from the public is intrinsic in management options and hence, ERA urges the public to desist from releasing such exotic species into the wild as well as encourages them to also plant local flora in their gardens.

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