Global loss of flora uniqueness due to the spread of exotic plants

North American wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) in the Russian Republic of Altai. Credit: Elena Zykova

In rare cases, the successful integration and successful spread of exotic plants into existing ecosystems can contribute to the uniqueness of the local flora. But much more often, this process, known as naturalization, leads to the homogenization of the local flora, and thus to the net loss of global flora uniqueness. Very effective super-invaders to colonize new territories and expel native species are becoming more and more similar in flora, even in well-defined geographically distant areas. These are the findings of an international research team led by Konstanz biologists published in the journal. Nature Communications..

Global database used for research

In a recent study, researchers used a global database to make the first comparison of the composition of 658 regional flora from almost every region of the world. In addition, they investigated the effects of biogeographical and anthropogenic (ie, artificial) factors on the increased homogenization of the local flora. To assess the uniqueness of the flora of an individual region, we take into account both the number of plant species that one region shares or does not share with others, and the extent to which the plant species are related to each other. rice field. The analysis also includes the evolutionary history of the region.

Biogeographic factors play an important role in the spread of exotic plants and the loss of uniqueness of the local flora. Studies show that these factors include the geographic distance between the regions under consideration and the “climatic distance” between those regions.

“The more similar the two regions are in terms of climate, the more likely it is that plants in one region will succeed in establishing their status as naturalized species in the other, after crossing geographical barriers. In a sense, a region Due to the short climatic distance to the new habitat, it is climatically pre-adapted, “said Dr. Qiang Yang, lead author of the study.

Global loss of flora uniqueness

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) along the river in Austria. Credit: Franz Essl

Political factors as an additional driving force

However, anthropogenic factors also affect the prevalence of exotic plants and the global homogenization of local flora. For example, researchers say that the shared administrative history of some areas under consideration plays a role. Regions that were under the same political administration now or in the past show greater homogenization in the composition of the flora.

Current examples are regions that are part of the same land, such as different regions in the United States. Historical examples, on the other hand, are European colonial forces and earlier colonies. “There has been, or at least, active exchange in the past, in the form of both freight and passenger traffic, between regions of the same land, or between regions of historical colonial relations, which is usually geographical. Cross-border plant exchanges will also increase, intentionally as trades, crops, or unintentionally, “explains Qiang Yang.

Need more effective biosecurity measures

Overall, naturalized aliens Plant species Promoting the global homogenization of local plant communities, humans are making a clear contribution by spreading exotic plants. “These effects are now evident in the most remote parts of the world,” reports Dr. Marc Vann Krunen, a professor of ecology at the University of Konstanz’s Faculty of Biology and the lead author of the publication. He concludes: “Unless more effective safeguards are taken to counter the ongoing spread and naturalization of aliens. plant In the future, they will continue to destroy the uniqueness of our ecosystem, making the world a less diverse place. ”

Global database of plants reveals human activity, which is the greatest driving force for the homogenization of plant communities

For more information:
Qiang Yang et al, Global Loss of Flora Uniqueness, Nature Communications (2021). DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-021-27603-y

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Global loss of flora uniqueness due to the spread of exotic plants

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