The spread of the raccoon in Europe, originally from America, is controversially discussed. Photo: Jassen/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
More and more animals and plants are being taken from their habitat by humans – consciously and unconsciously. Many cannot adapt to the new living conditions, but some are becoming firmly established. “Some non-native species cause serious problems for native species – as predators, competitors for food and habitat, or vectors of diseases,” explains Professor Jonathan Jeschke, researcher at IGB and Freie Universität Berlin, and head of the Invasion Dynamics Network which initiated the study.
As ornamental plants, aquarium inhabitants or exotic pets, charismatic species are probably more likely to be deliberately introduced than inconspicuous species. And “if a non-native species is introduced more frequently and in higher numbers, it is more likely to establish itself,” says Jonathan Jeschke.
The social acceptance of attractive invasive species with charisma is higher than that of unattractive invasive species. This can hamper nature conservation measures designed to contain the spread of a species: “An appearance perceived as beautiful or cute can make the management of species invasions more difficult, because then public support is often lacking,” regrets Ivan Jaric
, lead author of the study and researcher at the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences
. For example, management actions in Italy to control the invasive grey squirrel – and to protect the native red squirrel – were prevented by protests from interest groups using cute cartoon characters of the animals.