The spread of invasive alien species can have negative impacts on the environment, the health of people, animals and plants, and the economy. Norway's strategy is to avoid the unintentional introduction of non-native species and to contain and control invasive alien species that have been introduced.
A growing threat to Norwegian ecosystems
New non-native species are constantly being discovered in the wild in Norway. This is partly explained by globalisation of the economy and the accompanying increase in trade and travel. Climate change is another important factor. With generally higher temperatures, a longer growing season, and shorter, milder winters, it will become easier for alien species to establish populations in Norway.
Many new alien species
The twentieth century saw the arrival of many new alien species in Norway, whether on land, in rivers and lakes or at sea. The infamous salmon parasite Gyrodactylus salaris arrived as a "hitchhiker" on salmon smolt imported in the early days of fish farming. The harlequin ladybird was first recorded in an imported consigment of thuja. The Spanish slug – the gardener's nightmare – has spread with imported vegetables.
The most recent arrivals in Norway include the signal crayfish, raccoon dog, Nuttall’s pondweed and a new species of bark beetle. These are all species that could have serious impacts on ecosystems and threaten native Norwegian species if they become established in the wild.
Species moving rapidly polewards
New research has shown that the distribution of many species is shifting in response to a changing climate – and much faster than was previously thought. A study looked at roughly 2 000 species, which are moving at an average rate of more than 4.5 metres a day. This means that their ranges shift about 1.6 km closer to the poles every year.
How can alien species cause damage?
Alien species are all those that have been introduced to an area where they are not found naturally. Many of them are unable to adapt to a new environment or are harmless if they do survive, but others pose a threat to native plants and animals, and are called invasive alien species. They may for instance:
- compete with native species for food and/or habitat
- alter the habitat in which they live
- carry diseases or parasites
- hybridise with native species
- increase the risk that already threatened species will become extinct, or displace native species from an area.
Norwegian Black List
In June 2012, the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre published Alien species in Norway – with the Norwegian Black List 2012. This contains an overview of alien species recorded in Norway and an assessment of their impacts on Norwegian nature.
Alien species are placed in one of the five impact categories shown in the table below, depending on how serious a threat they are considered to be to native biodiversity. Severe impact species are most likely to cause problems, for example by outcompeting native species or hybridising with them.
The Biodiversity Information Centre has now registered 2320 alien species in Norway. Risk assessments have been carried out for 1180 species that already reproduce in the wild in Norway or are expected to do so in the next 50 years, and 134 that could pose an ecological risk if they spread to the country. In all, 217 species have been placed in the categories "severe impact" and "high impact". Severe impact species include the Spanish slug, American mink and garden lupin.
What is Norway doing to control alien species?
Prevention is better than control: it is easier and cheaper to avoid the introduction of alien species in the first place. This is why it is so important never to take plants and animals with you across borders unless you are quite sure it is permitted.
If an alien species has already reached Norway, the next option is eradication. This is usually only feasible before a species has spread too widely, so early detection of new non-native species and a rapid response are important.
If it is not possible to eradicate a species, the third option is to contain its spread and control its numbers. For instance, many gardeners inspect their gardens regularly and collect and kill as many Spanish slugs as possible.
Who is responsible?
The environmental authorities coordinate much of the work on alien species in Norway, but all sectors are responsible for the impacts of their own activities, including the introduction of alien species.
This was made clear in Norway's Strategy on Invasive Alien Species, which was published in 2007. The strategy describes Norway's goals and what action can be taken to prevent the spread of alien species. It requires cooperation between the authorities, research communities and voluntary organisations.
The Ministry of Climate and Environment is responsible for ensuring that everyone complies with the legislation on alien species. The Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre gathers information about alien species that are already present in Norway and what kind of damage they may do. It also assesses which alien species are likely to spread to Norway in the future. The Norwegian Environment Agency provides advice on managing alien species.
The authorities have drawn up action plans for dealing with certain invasive alien species: those for American mink, raccoon dog, Spanish slug, the salmon parasite Gyrodactylus salaris and the Japanese rose have been completed.
The county authorities are involved in preparing action plans and coordinating control and eradication efforts. Many municipalities are also involved in containing, controlling and eradicating alien species, and in some cases they also enlist the help of the general public.