Biodiversity and Biosecurity. What these two stand for?

Biodiversity is the variety of all living things from micro-organisms to plants and animals and the genetic information they contain and the ecosystems they form. There are three levels of biodiversity which are genetic, species and ecosystem diversity that all work together to create what we know as life on earth.

Biosecurity has many meanings depending on what discipline in refers to. Originally biosecurity was a set of preventive measures designed to reduce the risk of transmission of infectious diseases in crops and livestock, quarantined pests, invasive foreign species, and living modified organisms. Biosecurity threats are small scale risks that have the ability to rise rapidly. This requires an effective policy to analyse threats, estimate the chance of the threats occurring and have a plan to deal with emergencies.

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Factors influencing biosecurity

  • Advances in communications and global access to biosecurity information
  • New agricultural production and food processing technologies
  • Increased trade in food and agricultural products
  • Legal obligations for signatories of relevant international agreements
  • Increasing travel and movement of people across borders
  • Globalisation
  • Greater public attention to biodiversity, the environment and the impact of agriculture on both
  • Shift from country independence to country interdependence for effective biosecurity
  • Scarcity of technical and operational resources
  • High dependence of some countries on food imports

Alien Plants as Biodiversity Threat

Aliens are now rightly regarded as one of the major threats worldwide to native biodiversity, and we ignore them at our peril. They readily displace native taxa, as we have seen with Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum) in the Killarney oakwoods and elsewhere, and they can hybridize with native species or with other alien plants to generate further problems. They often have major economic impact, especially as weeds of agriculture, waterways and industrial land.

Alien plants comprise an integral and increasingly significant element of the flora of Ireland. However, they have not always received the amount of serious study that they deserve. Indeed not all botanists have regarded research on aliens as an entirely reputable occupation, and this has certainly too often been the case in Ireland. Even that doyen of Irish floristic botany, the late Professor David Webb of Trinity College, Dublin, was suspicious of aliens, and he and others have tended to be selective in their treatment of non-native plants. So-called ‘casuals’ especially have been glossed over or dismissed. Only partly in jest, Webb more than once scolded me, and the author of the present Catalogue, for an interest in aliens that “would lead Irish botany into disrepute”! But I am sure that he would have been delighted to welcome this publication and have it to hand for constant reference.

By contrast with Ireland, for more than a century Britain has had an extensive community of individuals interested in the alien flora. Botanists there have long enjoyed access to a substantial body of published information on the distribution of alien plants, notably the recent publications of Clement Foster (1994) and Ryves, Clement Foster (1996). This is in part a consequence of a more urbanized landscape and society, with numerous plants introduced as a result of large-scale, long-term global commerce. The wool trade in particular generated a huge body of British alien records, especially in Scotland, and in parts of southern England where wool ‘shoddy’ was applied as a dressing to agricultural land. Scientific interest in the alien flora of Ireland has always been more sporadic, and the records more scattered, too many of them unpublished or ignored.

Historical background of the alien plant species

Records for approximately 920 alien plant species and hybrids found in Ireland mainly between the beginning of the 19th century and 2001 are presented in the Catalogue. By comparison, there are approximately 900 native vascular plant species, nearly 200 hybrids and a further 80 or so species whose status is uncertain (Scannell & Synnott 1987). The aliens are predominantly flowering plants, some conifers and ferns, and one clubmoss. Rosa multiflora is a native plant that originated from the Asia region. It was first imported in 1866. It owns the same leaf stipules like the common red rose that we all know. However, it is normally smaller, bloomed and will be white to light pinkish in colour. There many more alien or invasive plants, some of them are the Giant Hogweed, Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed. Over half the total number are casuals, and over a quarter were recorded only once or at one site. The composition of the alien floras in the 19th century and 20th century, and the main changes between that of the 19th century and end of the 20th century are summarized below.

Miltiflora rose Multiflora rose leaf stipules
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