Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

FAO warns of alien invasive species threat to Asia-Pacific forests

26 Aug 2002 -- Ulaanbaatar - As if clearing by poor farmers, uncontrolled forest fires and destructive logging practices weren’t enough, the rich forests of the Asia-Pacific region are now being threatened by aliens. Alien invasive species, that is.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), a wide array of aggressive, rapidly-reproducing, and highly mobile plant and animal species are invading the forests of the Asia-Pacific region. Some, such as the vine Merremia peltata quickly choke logged-over forests and smother young trees. Similarly, infestations of aggressive, fire-tolerant Imperata cylindrica grass extend across more than 50 million hectares of former forest land in South and Southeast Asia, the Pacific islands, and southern China.

Insect invaders include termites, pine scales, long-horned beetles, psyllids and moths that variously devour the leaves from trees, kill the tips of branches, bore into stems and trunks, and suck the sap from needles and leaves. Millions of hectares of trees are affected every year; some killed outright, others weakened and stunted.

Any non-native plant, insect or animal whose introduction in a new environment causes, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental damage, or harm to human health is considered an alien invasive species. Such pests have challenged forest managers for centuries, but studies indicate that the threats from alien invasive species have rapidly escalated in recent years with increased trade, travel and transport of people and goods spanning the world.

Taken together, alien invasive species cost the Asia and Pacific forestry sector billions of dollars every year in terms of lost productivity and expenses in battling the invaders. The invaders also wreak havoc on native biodiversity and ecological stability. Entire forest ecosystems in French Polynesia and Hawaii, for example, have been transformed by Miconia calvescens, which was ill-advisedly introduced to these islands as an ornamental plant.

High-level forestry leaders from around the Asia-Pacific region are meeting this week in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to map out collaborative measures for dealing with the increased threats from invasive species. The problem is one of several issues being addressed by the 28 member countries of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission, and more than a dozen international partner organizations, meeting in the Mongolian capital. Leading forestry officials are also considering new approaches for dealing with illegal logging and trade, and policies for encouraging increased investment for growing trees.

The Ulaanbaatar meeting parallels the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), being held simultaneously in Johannesburg, where the forest-related problems of biodiversity loss, deforestation, illegal logging and invasive species will gain the attention of world leaders. But while WSSD is oriented toward global action, forestry specialists in Mongolia are focusing on regional initiatives and cooperation among Asia-Pacific countries.

The Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission, established more than 50 years ago with support from FAO, is the premier regional forum for discussing forest policy issues and developing collaborative approaches for regional cooperation.

Mongolia, which joined the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission in 1998, is hosting the regional body for the first time.

RAP 02/29

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