Biography & Net Worth: Global loss of flora uniqueness due to the spread of exotic plants

Global loss of flora uniqueness

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

In rare cases, successful integration and successful propagation of exotic plants into existing ecosystems may contribute to the uniqueness of local flora. But more often, this process, known as naturalization, leads to the homogenization of local flora, and thus a net loss of global vegetation specificity. Very effective super-invaders at colonizing new areas and driving out native species are becoming more and more common in flora, even in well-defined geographically distant areas. These are the findings of an international research team led by the Konstanz biologist, published in the journal Science. nature communication,

Global database used for research

In a recent study, researchers used a global database to make the first comparison of 658 regional flora compositions from nearly every region of the world. In addition, they investigated the effects of biogeographic and anthropogenic (i.e., artificial) factors on the increasing homogeneity of local flora. To assess the uniqueness of a region’s flora, we take into account the number of plant species that an area shares or does not share with others, and the extent to which plant species are related to one another. Huh. Rice fields. 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 local flora specificity. Studies suggest that these factors include the geographic distance between the regions in question and the “climatic distance” between those regions.

“The more similar the two regions are in terms of climate, the more likely plants in one area will be able to overcome geographic barriers to establish their status as natural species in the other. Due to the short climatic distance to the habitat, it is highly adapted to the climate,” said study lead author Dr. Qiang Yang.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) along a river in Austria. credit: Franz Eslie

Political factor as an additional driving force

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

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

More effective biosecurity measures are needed

Overall, humans are making a clear contribution by spreading alien plants to natural alien plant species, while promoting global homogenization of local plant communities. “These effects are now evident in the most remote parts of the world,” Dr. Reports Mark Van Kruenen, Professor of Ecology at the University of Konstanz’s Faculty of Biology and lead author of the publication. He concluded: “Unless more effective safeguards are put in place to counter the ongoing proliferation and naturalization of aliens. In the future, they will continue to destroy the uniqueness of our ecosystem, making the world less diverse.” “


Global database of plants reveals human activity as the biggest driving force for homogenization of plant communities


for more information:
Qiang Yang et al, Global loss of vegetation specificity, nature communication (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-27603-y

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