Pennisetum setaceum: a very dangerous invasive species for southeastern Iberian territory

Biological invasions: legal framework, management and research

Biological invasions, together with the destruction and fragmentation of habitats, currently represent one of the main factors determining the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. The impact of invasive species does not stop there; their introduction directly affects human well-being, as they cause serious damage to the economy, especially to agricultural, livestock and forestry production, and even to public health. Considering the importance of biological invasions (biotic exchanges) as a driver of global change, it is good news that last November 11, the government approved the Spanish Catalog of Invasive Species. Together with the regulations concerning climate change, this shows that global change is no longer just a matter for scientists, but is already present in society through legislation.

The new regulation aims to regulate the process and conditions for the inclusion of invasive species in the list and catalog, as well as to establish the necessary action measures to prevent their introduction into the Spanish natural environment and for their control and possible eradication. In addition, it should raise social awareness of the problem of biological invasions and serve as a guide for the implementation of good conservation practices. Among them, priority should be given to eradication in natural areas and areas of special conservation.

In relation to the challenge of managing ecosystems to minimize the impact of biological invasions, in the GLOCHARID project we set out to find answers to the following questions: What is the invasive potential of the exotic species present in the arid ecosystems of Andalusia, what activities or components of global change facilitate plant invasions in these ecosystems, what are the habitats most vulnerable to invasion, and which are the most vulnerable to invasion? Finding the answers to these questions is allowing us to know the current situation of invasions in the arid zones of Andalusia, to detect the main activities that facilitate invasions in the study area, and to propose monitoring indicators for invasive species.

Pennisetum setaceum in southeastern Iberian territory

One of our results has been the presence of Pennisetum setaceum (also called plumero, rabogato or elephant grass), a really dangerous plant, which we think we still have time to make efforts to eradicate. This species, usually introduced as an ornamental, has proven to be one of the most potentially invasive worldwide. However, until now, the lack of coordination between administrations, and between scientists and managers of different administrations has made its introduction in public gardens a reality. Its arrival in our territory is very recent, probably in the 90's, and now we are checking its naturalized presence in various locations of the Andalusian arid ecosystems, which of course, has come from gardens from which it has literally "escaped". To alert the authorities of the dimension that is reaching the expansion of this species in places of high ecological value, such as the Natural Park of Cabo de Gata-Níjar, or the Natural Place of the Tabernas Desert, we have made the report presented in this post. We are still far from knowing in detail all the populations of this species, however, its invasion rates and its fast proliferation in several places of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as the knowledge derived from its dangerousness in other areas of the planet, have induced us to present these partial results.

The fight against biological invasions: a commitment of society

Society's commitment to the control of these species must be unanimous. One challenge we face when talking about biological invasions is that the management measures to be adopted must be supported by collaboration between the different public administrations and other competent organisms. In addition, the commitment of citizens is essential, for which some scientists, such as Vernon Heywood and Sarah Brunel, have drawn up a code of conduct that includes the following basic actions as a basis for the control of invasions:

  1. Know the invasive species in the area.
  2. Know exactly what is being grown: making sure that the introduced material is correctly identified.
  3. Know the regulations regarding non-native invasive plants.
  4. Work in cooperation with other agents involved, both in the commercial sector and in the protection and conservation of flora.
  5. Identify which species are a threat and do not stock or offer them to the public.
  6. Avoid the use of invasive or potentially invasive plants in large-scale public plantings.
  7. Adopt good labeling practices.
  8. Offer replacement plants for invasive plants.
  9. Use caution when disposing of plant remains and other waste stock that includes these plants.
  10. Adopt good production practices to avoid unintended introductions and spread.
  11. Engage in publicity and outreach activities.
  12. Think about the increased risks from invasions of non-native plants due to climate change.

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