Scientists predict a 36% rise in the number of non-native species worldwide by 2050. Europe is likely to be the most affected with an increase of 64%. Researchers used a mathematical model based on records of alien species introductions and estimates of species that could end up becoming invasive if current movements continue. The movement of large insects, birds and small creatures such as molluscs and crustaceans is expected to be the largest.
The rising number of non-native species particularly threatens islands’ biodiversity and ecosystems. Although islands comprise only 5.3% of the planet’s terrestrial area, they are extinction epicentres. According to the NGO Island Conservation, 75% of reptile, bird, amphibian and mammal extinctions have occurred on islands. Of those, 86% were caused by invasive alien species (IAS).
Unfortunately, issues of cost, replicability, and scaling have limited the effectiveness of existing methods to remove IAS and restore all islands in danger. Innovation and new solutions are urgently needed if we are to avoid further extinctions. One of the potential applications of gene drive is to help protect biodiversity by reducing populations of IAS in islands. Gene drive methods of rodent eradication, for example, could offer a more species-specific, humane and biologically safe alternative to rodenticides.