Invasive Alien Species
Invasive alien species (IAS) are non-native species which have been introduced by human activities and which now propagate and spread independently throughout the country. Invasive species rapidly grow and expand and are in conflict with indigenous species, jeopardizing habitats and competing for resources needed for their survival thus causing a loss of native biodiversity. According to the Global Invasive Species Database website, there are 24 IAS found in Lebanon. The introduction of invasive flora and fauna is mainly through the importation of ornamental and donated forestry plants with their accompanied insects, the legal/illegal trade of wildlife, the escape of exotic bird species from cages, and the introduction of non-native marine species when the Suez Canal was opened in 1869.
IAS are not yet considered a major threat to biodiversity in the country nor recognized as a key element of strategy development probably because their posed threat is poorly understood due to the lack of relevant studies and assessments (SOER, 2010). As a result, limited work is being conducted to identify or control or track the introduction of alien species and no significant measures were taken in this purpose except in protected areas. Within protected areas, introduction of alien species is forbidden by law, management plans are in place and operating in respect to some of the invasive species threatening endemic species.
In addition, the following causes also contribute to the appearance of IAS:
- The lack of enforcement of regulations and control due to insufficient governmental infrastructure and knowledge, absence of proper control at the borders (such as genetic bar coding), and the need for more technical expertise and researchers and more laboratories that are able to deliver required outputs and accurate results. IAS regulations and control are currently limited to:
- MoA Decision 108/1 issued in September 1995 to ban the import and introduction of any Cedar seeds, seedlings and plants. This decision was issued in response to the uncontrolled introduction of trees from the Cedrus genus through the ornamental industry.
- MoA’s regulation of the import and export of species through issuing of CITES permits. knowing that Lebanon has ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) through Law 233 dated 22/10/2012.
- The low number of staff at MoA with proper skills to identify IAS and apply the existing regulations.
- The low amount of research undertaken related to IAS. Only few alien species of major concern have been studied. These are limited to the identification of species but there are no scientific publications on the risk assessment of these species in Lebanon even though it is considered to be a real threat.
- Lack of technical expertise and researchers in relation to IAS.
- The absence of national monitoring of species which is mainly due to the insufficient coordination between universities and ministries along with limited research funding.
- Climate change which enhances the movement of invasive species due to shifting climatic conditions and a lack of emergency plans.
- The high economic value for some IAS that act as an incentive for their import and release.
- The discharge of agricultural runoff and untreated sewage waste into water bodies creating nutrient-rich environments favoring the survival of some IAS. An example is the appearance of “Zahret El Nil” plant (Eichhornia sp.) in the basin of Al-Kabir River which resulted in clogging irrigation canals, creation of prime habitats for diseases’ vectors, and flooding events damaging agricultural lands along the river.
The main impacts of IAS on biodiversity and ecosystems are the replacement/ loss of native species and disturbance of natural habitats, sometimes coupled with socio-economic implications. For instance, a decrease in agricultural production where IAS, when proliferating near agricultural lands, may affect the productive capacity of the land and increase agricultural labor time, affecting human well-being by threatening the availability of food.