These include plants and animals not native to Europe that have either accidentally or deliberately been introduced in Europe’s environments.

Invasive alien species have serious negative consequences for their new environment. They represent a major threat to biodiversity in the EU and worldwide. An updated geographical mapping is crucial to track new sightings of invasive alien species of Union concern in areas that were previously unaffected. This fosters cooperation between Member States, across borders or within shared geographical areas.

The report displays the geographic distribution of the 11 species added in 2017 to the list of invasive alien species of Union concern (EU Regulation on invasive alien species 1143/2014). It supplements the report on the previously listed species, bringing the total to 48 species. The EU law sets specific restrictions on keeping, importing, selling, breeding and growing plants and animals that are on this list.

Maps in the current report show a large concentration of such species in the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and other north western European countries.

Scientists note that this is due in particular to a long history of trade activities in those countries, trade in horticultural and pet species, but also other trade activities introducing species as a contaminant. By providing a geographical baseline of invasive alien species of Union concern across Europe, the JRC is helping all EU Member States to comply with EU law by taking actions to control populations in their own country and prevent their spread to others that are not yet 'invaded'.

What are these species and how did they get here?

Most of Europe's invasive alien species were introduced a long time ago – since before the 1950s, many even before the 20th century. They found their way into Europe's wildlife e.g. through seed dispersal from gardens or with water discarded from aquaria. Some species were released intentionally into the wild, such as the North American 'muskrat' (Ondatra zibethicus) which was introduced to Europe for its fur.

The species included in the current JRC baseline distribution report range from plants, like the poisonous 'common milkweed' (Asclepias syriaca), which first came to France from North America in 1825, to animals like the 'Egyptian goose' (Alopochen aegyptiacus), which was originally brought from Egypt and escaped into the British outdoors in 1676.

The report gives information on each of the species included, such as common names, where they live, what their impacts are and how they were introduced in Europe.

Should we be worried?

Invasive alien species are a concern for several reasons:

  • They create problems in the native biodiversity, for example by outcompeting native plants and animals;
  • They create problems for native habitats, for example by altering the natural vegetation, river banks, etc;
  • They can have negative economic impacts, for example in damages to agriculture and tourism;
  • They can cause human health issues, such as allergies.

Entering into force in 2015, EU Regulation 1143/2014 takes action to prevent, minimise and mitigate these negative impacts. Priority is given to a subset of invasive alien species considered to be of Union concern. Species are included on the list because they can cause such significant damage that the adoption of dedicated measures at EU level is justified. By showing the geographical distribution of species included in this list, the new report is an important tool for the implementation of the Regulation. It provides useful information to the Member States so that they can notify the European Commission and other Member States of early detections of the listed species. It also provides a factual basis for the review of the Regulation's application.

Ultimately, the information included in the report can be used for monitoring the achievement of Target 5 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 - combatting invasive alien species.

More information

JRC Science for Policy report: 'Baseline distribution of species listed in the 1st update of Invasive Alien Species of Union concern'

JRC Science for Policy report: 'Baseline Distribution of Invasive Alien Species of Union concern' (2017 report including the original 37 species on the list of Union concern)

The spatial data are also available as shapefiles and can be downloaded through EASIN.