CSIRO researcher net sampling waist deep in water in a swamp

Surveys for biological control agents are conducted in an invasive plant's home range.

Invasive alien species threaten global biodiversity

While the implications of climate change for biodiversity have been widely recognised, the insidious effect of invasive alien species (IAS) on global biodiversity has received little attention.

  • 20 May 2009 | Updated 14 October 2011

International Day for Biological Diversity

That is why this year's theme for the United Nations’ International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) is invasive alien species.

The International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international treaty to sustain the diversity of life on earth. In 2006, CBD recognised IAS as 'one of the greatest threats to biodiversity, and to the ecological and economic well-being of society and the planet'.

IAS and biodiversity

According to CSIRO Biodiversity Research Director, Dr Mark Lonsdale all the efforts made to manage the impact of climate change on biodiversity could be brought undone by invasive species.

Climate change is putting our ecosystems under great stress and one consequence of this will be an influx of new pests, weeds and diseases.

Increasing globalisation has led to greater movement of new species around the world, and native species killed or stressed by climate change will all too often be replaced by these weeds and feral animals.

IAS are therefore a global problem and managing them will take an international collaborative effort.


“Invasive alien species are one of the greatest threats to biodiversity.”
The International Convention on Biological Diversity

Invasive species are already a major cause of biodiversity loss and new tools are needed to tackle them.

Because of this CSIRO is putting considerable resources into research on IAS and their effect on Australia’s biodiversity, as well as actively participating in international groups such as DIVERSITAS and the Global Invasive Species Programme.

CSIRO’s research

Current CSIRO research targets invasive species already here as well as trying to anticipate and avert the next generation of IAS. The threats are diverse and hard to predict so excellence in risk based research to make sense of the complexity is also essential.

CSIRO research ranges from weeds, rabbits, carp and risk analysis of potential invasive species to biological collections that underpin much of the research.

Our weeds research, for example, ranges from individual weeds such as lantana to the impact of cyclones on weeds and the effects of climate change on potential weeds.

The Australian National Herbarium, with its collection of native and exotic plants, underpins much of our weeds research and provides a vital resource when a new invasive plant species is found.

A glimpse into CSIRO’s involvement in IAS

CSIRO research on IAS prevention covers the continuum of border security:


The Wealth from Oceans Flagship is building a management system for conserving Australia’s marine biodiversity, which will lead to triple-bottom-line benefits for our nation.

CSIRO scientists are researching biosecurity threats to pollination and developing invasive species impact assessment and prioritisation methods as part of our risk analysis and response research.

The Australian Biological Collections contribute to the discovery, inventory, understanding and conservation of Australia’s plant and animal biodiversity.



To help protect Australia's ecosystems, CSIRO is undertaking invasive species research at pre-border, border and post-border level.

Invasive plants and animals (including invertebrates) are now the second biggest threat to national biodiversity after habitat loss

CSIRO's Climate Adaptation Flagship research is developing and delivering adaptation options to protect from the impacts of climate change Australia's marine and terrestrial species, ecosystems and the services they provide.

For more detail

Assessing the origins and diversity of lantana in Australia [external link]
Originating in the Americas, lantana is now a serious weed of natural environments, pastures, and farmland throughout the tropics and sub-tropics.

New research into the increasingly herbicide-tolerant wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) has revealed increased potential for two ‘contraceptive’ approaches to controlling the noxious weed.

This report details how CLIMEX modelling software is being used to help predict the potential spread of 41 sleeper and alert weed species in Australia as a result of climate change. (44 pages)

Mexican feathergrass [external link]
Herbarium collections play an increasing role in the detection and identification of potentially damaging invasive plant species in Australia, such as in the recent discovery of Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima).

Rabbits continue to be a serious problem in Australia, and are estimated to cost agricultural industries around A$200 million each year as well as causing severe environmental damage. (5:32)

In this Farming Ahead article, CSIRO scientists reveal how they have quantified the amount of water that willows, a major environmental problem in parts of South-East Australia, use. (3 pages)

CSIRO scientists are working with agencies, regional groups and individuals to document the environmental, social and economic benefits and costs of buffel grass.

Severe Category 4 Tropical Cyclone Larry hit the North Queensland coast in 2006 causing extensive destruction to rainforest habitats in the Wet Tropics. The widespread disturbance caused by the cyclone provided ideal conditions for rapid recruitment and spread of invasive weeds in Queensland’s rainforests.


Learn more about CSIRO research in Biodiversity & Ecology.