If you have ever volunteered in a wilderness park - as I have, you probably have come across the debate on invasive alien species (usually abbreviated, in specialist parlance, as IAS) and what to do about them. Experts worldwide generally agree that IAS are a bad thing and should be eradicated, but they differ on the best way to do it, the degree to which it should be done, and exactly which species qualify as alien and invasive.
Take the coconut palm, for example. This plant is not native to the Caribbean; it was introduced at some point after the beginning of European settlement in the Americas. This would make it an invasive alien species, right? Yet nowadays it would be hard to imagine the Caribbean landscape without coconut palms. So what would you do with them when restoring the original ecosystems of the region? Coconut palms, in or out?
Thus, at a time when invasive alien species are spreading across the world more rapidly than ever before - aided by global trade, smuggling networks and, some would argue, environmental change, the fight to control and eradicate them is additionally hampered by the disagreements among ecologists and other experts, not to mention the sometimes substantial lack of communication and data exchange among the various groups involved in the conservation field. The result is a patchwork of disparate and even disconnected efforts - at best less effective, at worst counterproductive.
Now, a meeting of government representatives in Montreal has come with a solution that, if successfully implemented, represents a significant first step toward a coordinated information network that would benefit conservation groups all over the world. Their proposed plan is called the Joint Work Programme (JWP) and it involves eight pan-European, pan-American, and global information service providers. The ultimate goal of the program is to create a shared, standardized global database on IAS, available to all the parties in the global biodiversity conservation community, and easy to improve when new information comes along.
With this new program, government experts hope to increase their chances of meeting the goals set by the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of 2010, which call for the eradication of the most urgent invasive alien species by 2020 and a comprehensive plan to keep future IAS under control. Still, we should not get ahead of ourselves. The JWP is barely in its infant phase, and much work remains to be done in this as well as other areas.