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Invasive insects: An underestimated cost to the world economy

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This study brought together the largest database ever developed on economic damage attributable to invasive insects worldwide. Covering damage to goods and services, health care costs and agricultural losses, this study, conducted with the support of ANR and the BNP Paribas Foundation, considered 737 articles, books and reports. This work was published in Nature Communications on 4 October 2016.

Why study insects? For thousands of years, insects have been responsible for the spread of diseases in humans and livestock, and cause considerable damage on many levels: from attacks on crops and stocks, through the destruction of infrastructure, to the devastation of forests, altering and weakening ecosystems. In the living world, insects alone (about 2.5 million species) are probably the group responsible for the greatest expense. In addition, they are among the most aggressive invasive species: 87% of 2500 terrestrial invertebrates that have colonized new territories are insects.

Underestimated damage

The scientists estimated the minimum economic damage caused by invasive insects to be 69 billion euros per year. Of the insects studied, the Formosan termite (1) (Coptotermes formosanus) is one of the most destructive, causing over 26.7 billion euros of damage per year in the world. However, according to the research group, this estimate is based on a study that was insufficiently documented. Studies that were more soundly based (considered reproducible by the scientists) also put the cabbage moth (2) (Plutella xylostella), with a cost of 4.1 billion euros per year, in a high-ranking position, like the brown spruce longhorn beetle (3) (Tetropium fuscum), which costs 4 billion euros in Canada alone.

Furthermore, according to this study, North America suffers the largest financial losses, at 24.5 billion euros a year, while Europe is currently at only 3.2 billion euros per year. This difference, however, can be explained more by a lack of evaluation sources than by a difference in exposure to these dangers. Thus, according to the researchers, the total annual cost estimation of 69 billion euros is largely underevaluated. Many parts of the world do not offer enough economic data to produce an accurate estimate, which is therefore minimized. In addition, the research team focused on the study of the ten most costly invasive species, not counting the very large number that cause less damage. Finally, considering the estimated values of ecosystem services on a global scale (hundreds of billions of dollars for crop pollination alone), the disruption caused by invasive insects could reach a level far beyond the current estimate.

Health and agriculture are the most affected

Insects overall take a heavy toll on agriculture by consuming 40% of the harvest (enough to feed one billion people).

As for health, the total cost attributable to invasive insects exceeds 6.1 billion euros per year (without counting malaria, Zika virus, or economic impacts on tourism or productivity, etc.). From a geographic point of view, the regions of the world where medical expenses related to invasive insects prove to be the greatest are Asia (2.55 billion euros a year), North America (1.85 billion euros per year) and the whole of Central and South America (1.66 billion euros a year). Among the diseases that have the greatest economic impact, we firstly find dengue fever, for which the costs account for 84% of the 6.1 billion euros.

According to the authors, greater vigilance and the development of procedures to respond to biological invasions would save society tens of billions of euros. These preventive measures could divide the cost of diseases caused by mosquitoes by at least tenfold.

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French laboratories involved in this study

  • laboratoire Ecologie, systématique et évolution (Université Paris-Sud/CNRS/AgroParisTech)
  • Laboratoire montpelliérain d'économie théorique et appliquée (CNRS/ Université de Montpellier/Inra)
  • laboratoire Maladies infectieuses et vecteurs : écologie, génétique, évolution et contrôle (CNRS/IRD/Université de Montpellier)
  • laboratoire Biologie des organismes et écosystèmes aquatiques (CNRS/MNHN/IRD/UPMC/Université Caen Normandie)

Bibliographie

Massive yet grossly underestimated global costs of invasive insects. Corey J.A. Bradshaw, Boris Leroy, Céline Bellard, David Roiz, Céline Albert, Alice Fournier, Morgane Barbet-Massin, Jean-Michel Salles, Frédéric Simard & Franck Courchamp. Nature Communications. 4 october 2016.
DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12986

(1) The damage it causes and its remarkable capacity for spreading put it in top position on the IUCN list of the most invasive species. This species has never been eradicated from any place where it has become established. Its present distribution suggests that, with climate change, it could potentially invade Europe (source InvaCost).

(2) This moth causes considerable damage to cabbages, rendering them unsalable (source INRA).

(3) This beetle lays its eggs in crevices in the bark of pine and spruce trees (source INRA).

About the CNRS

Created in 1939, the French National Centre for Scientific Research is a public research organisation (under the authority of the Ministry for National Education, Higher Education and Research). It produces knowledge for the benefit of society. With almost 33,000 persons and a presence throughout the country, the CNRS pursues its activity in all fields of knowledge supported by more than 1,100 research and service units. With 20 Nobel Prize winners and 12 Fields Medal winners, the CNRS has a long history of excellence.

About the Université Paris-Sud

The Université Paris-Sud is a major player of the COMUE Université Paris-Saclay.

Multidisciplinary and with a strong emphasis on science and health, the excellence of its research has been recognised by several international awards, in particular in mathematics (four Field Medal winners between 1994 and 2010) and physics (three Nobel Prize winners). The Université Paris-Sud is one of the most prestigious universities in Europe in terms of research, it is ranked among the top French higher education institutions and 46th worldwide in the 2016 Shanghai ranking.

The Université Paris-Sud has 78 internationally-recognised laboratories, 30,200 students of which 2,400 PhD students and 4,800 foreign students, has 4,300 teacher-researchers and researchers, and 3,100 engineering, technical and administrative staff.

It has the largest campus in France with 2,700,000m2 of environmental heritage in a splendid setting.

About French national research agency (ANR)

ANR provides funding for project-based research in all fields of science - for both basic and applied research - to public research organisations and universities, as well as to private companies (including SMEs). Employing a method based on competitive peer reviews compliant with international standards, ANR provides the scientific community with instruments and programmes promoting creativity and openness, and stimulate new ideas and partnerships, particularly between academia and industry. Its activity also contributes to enhancing the competitiveness and the influence of French research in Europe and across the world.

Since 2010, ANR has also been the lead manager of the Investments for the Future programme in the field of higher education and research, in charge of project selection, funding and monitoring.

About the BNP Paribas Foundation

Under the oversight of the Foundation of France, the BNP Paribas Foundation has been a major player in corporate patronage of the arts for 30 years. It also contributes to the global development of the BNP Paribas Group's arts patronage, wherever the Bank operates.

The BNP Paribas Foundation takes a multidisciplinary approach to its work, supporting innovative projects dedicated to culture, community development and the environment. The BNP Paribas Foundation pays close attention to the quality of its commitment to its partners, with the goal of assisting them with their projects over the long term. Listening, support and trust are hallmarks of its involvement.

Since 1984, over 300 cultural projects, 40 research programmes, and a thousand social and educational initiatives have earned its support in France and around the world.

About the Climate Initiative programme

This study was funded under the Climate Initiative, a corporate philanthropy programme for research into climate change launched in 2010 by the BNP Paribas Foundation, in close cooperation with the BNP Paribas Group's Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility department. In total, 10 climate research projects have been or are currently supported through this programme.

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