The Global Spread of Invasive Species
The Global Spread of Invasive Species

In October 2010, a convention was held in Nagoya, Japan, where a non-binding agreement to save the world’s biodiversity was reached among 193 countries. These 193 countries are members of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international treaty that addresses the global loss of biodiversity. One of the main components of the CBD is to halt the spread of invasive species, which is a major contributing factor to the mass extinction of the world’s species.1 Recent studies noted in a World Bank report indicate that climate change contributes to the spread of such species, further magnifying the impact.2

The problem of invasive species cannot be tackled alone by non-binding agreements, such as the CBD. Fortunately, communities around the world are enacting measures to ensure that the spread of invasive species is controlled, and that their surrounding environment remains unchanged. The local government and citizenry of Sanibel island in southwest Florida, provides a model for other communities to follow in terms of their fight to halt the spread of the air potato, an invasive species.

Why are Invasive Species Problematic?

Invasive species are species that are not native to the area, and whose presence usually results in economic, environmental and/or human harm. They are characterized by their ability to reproduce rapidly, disturbing natural ecosystems.3 When nonnative species are introduced to areas where they have no natural predators or competitors, they increase uncontrollably. They harm native species through reducing wildlife food and habitat, and disrupt vital ecosystem functions, such as nutrient cycling and water flow.4 The problem compounds over time, hence a quick response time is necessary.

The problem of invasive species became significant when people began exploring the world via ships, transporting invasive species along with the rest of the cargo. Today invasive species continue to be transported through planes, ships, and even humans. The number of invasive species in North America today is in the hundreds.5 The Endangered Species Act estimates that 42 percent of species that are either threatened or endangered are at risk because of invasive species. More than $1 billion dollars in the U.S. and $1.5 trillion dollars worldwide are lost annually due to invasive species.6

Invasive Species and Climate Change

A global invasive species program in Nairobi conducted a study that claims that climate change will enhance the spread of certain invasive species. Specifically, a warmer world, extreme weather and higher levels of carbon dioxide will benefit certain species and in turn will devastate marine and terrestrial ecosystems. The rapid of spread of certain species will unhinge current ecosystem balances and a fight for resources and survival will ensue. Climate change may adversely impact some local species, making their survival less likely. This can lead to erosion, damages to livestock, fisheries and crops, and further economic and environmental losses.7

An Overview of an Invasive Species (The Air Potato)

Florida’s tropical and sub-tropical climate makes it an ideal breeding ground for non native species. Florida’s environment has been invaded by exotic plant and animal species, and in turn, has become even more susceptible to the successful invasion of invasive plants.8 One such plant that has thrived in Florida has been the air potato.

The air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) is not native in Florida, or anywhere in North America. It originated in tropical Asia, was introduced to Africa and was then brought to the Americas in 1777. The air potato may have been introduced to the Americas from West Africa by slave ships,9 making its way to Florida in 1905.

This plant has a vine that is unable to support its own weight; therefore it uses other plants for support, often stealing sunlight and other nutrients.10 Plant species that modify ecosystems are rare in natural systems, but invasive species often cause detrimental changes.11 After being introduced to Florida, the air potato immediately damaged the Floridian ecosystems, displacing native species and disrupting natural processes, such as fire and water flow. Florida has listed the air potato as one of the worst invasive plant species in the state.13

The city of Sanibel Island in Florida has taken special action address the problem of air potatoes. The city is staging an annual “Air Potato Exchange Day” on January 16, 2011, in an effort to increase awareness about the prevention of spreading invasive plant species, and to promote public support for controlling the air potato population. Such measures will hopefully decrease the spread of invasive species and will raise public awareness of and concern for similar problems worldwide.14


The air potato is one of hundreds of invasive species that negatively impacts ecosystems around the world. Their spread is an example of the negative impacts of globalization and advancements in technology. Their presence is becoming harder and harder to ignore, and governments around the globe are taking measures to prevent their spread and control their populations. But many times the spread of such species occurs unknowingly, therefore it is important for people to be aware of their actions and prevent further spread of invasive species.

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1 Hance, Jeremy. “Will biodiversity agreement save life on Earth?” Mongabay Environmental News. November 7, 2010.
2 Fogarty, David. “Invasive species, climate change deadly duo”. The Star Online. October 22, 2010.
3 “Invasive Species 101 – An Introduction to Invasive Species”. Center for invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. February 28, 2009.
4 Ibid.
5 Fitzpatrick, Laura. “Brief History: Invasive Species”. Time. February 22, 2010.
6 ibid
7 Fogarty, David. “Invasive species, climate change deadly duo”. The Star Online. October 22, 2010.
8 “Air Potato Management Plan.” Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. April, 2008.
9 “Air Potato”. Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. 2009.
10 “Air Potato Management Plan.” Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. April, 2008.
11 Gordon, Doria R. “Effects of Invasive, Non-Indigenous Plant Species on Ecosystem Processes: Lessons from Florida.” Ecological Applications. November, 1998.
12 “Air Potato”. Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. 2009.
13 Pemberton, Robert W. and Witkus, Gloria L. “Laboratory host range testing of Lilioceris sp. near impressa (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) – a potential biological control agent of air potato, Dioscorea bulbifera (Dioscoreaceae).” Biocontrol Science and Technology. July, 2010.
14 Lysiak, Jeff. “City wages war against exotic air potato species”. Captiva Sanibel News. November, 2010.

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