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Invasive American mink has spread throughout Europe

The American mink is an invasive species in Europe that was first introduced from North America during the 1920s for fur farming. Soon after their introduction, individual minks escaped from fur farms due to poor housing facilities or deliberate releases by activists and started to spread throughout Europe, with many mink populations becoming established in the wild. 

Currently, scientists worry that this invasive species may threaten European native species and biodiversity, while also facilitating the circulation of various infectious diseases, including mink-related strains of Covid-19. 

Now, a team of researchers led by the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain has compiled data from 34 databases covering 32 countries to map this species’ distribution across Europe in order to help officials develop reliable risk assessment and risk management policies.

The analysis revealed a progressive spread of the American mink in most European countries, including the Baltic States, France, Germany, Iceland, Poland, Scandinavia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. 

Although the mink is reported to be absent from some areas, such as parts of Norway, Iceland, and the UK, and data is still deficient for countries in south-eastern Europe, the findings suggest that, over the past 15 years, the species has continued to spread across Europe, and can be currently found across most of the continent.

“The study underscores the urgent need for effective control strategies and continued monitoring of American mink populations across Europe to prevent further harm to biodiversity and potential transmission of zoonotic diseases,” said senior author Joaquin Vicente, an expert in the health and population monitoring of wildlife at the University of Castilla-La Mancha.

“The research findings will be valuable to policymakers, conservationists, and other stakeholders working to protect European ecosystems and public health.”

The authors conclude that population monitoring of the American mink in Europe requires a coordinated effort, which should be particularly intensified in regions currently lacking data, such as southeastern Europe. The study is published in the journal Mammal Review.

More about invasive species 

Invasive species refer to non-native species that are introduced to a new environment and have a negative impact on the native species and the ecosystem. Invasive species can be plants, animals, or microorganisms, and they can cause significant economic, environmental, and social problems.

The introduction of invasive species often happens through human activities such as trade, transportation, and travel. Invasive species can outcompete native species for resources such as food, water, and habitat, leading to the decline or even extinction of the native species.

They can also alter the physical characteristics of the environment, such as the water chemistry or the soil composition, which can further impact the native species and ecosystem.

In addition to their impact on the environment, invasive species can also have economic consequences. They can reduce crop yields, damage infrastructure, and increase management costs, among other effects. Invasive species can also have social impacts, such as reduced recreational opportunities and reduced quality of life.

Efforts to control or eradicate invasive species can be challenging and expensive. Prevention through measures such as education, regulation, and early detection is often the most effective approach.

Once established, control measures may include physical, chemical, or biological methods, such as manual removal, herbicides, or biological control agents. However, it is important to consider the potential unintended consequences of these methods and to ensure that they are applied in a responsible and sustainable way.

Some of the most threatening invasive species

There are many invasive species that are considered to be highly threatening due to their ability to rapidly spread and negatively impact the environment, economy, and/or human health. Here are a few examples:

Burmese Python

Native to Southeast Asia, the Burmese Python is an invasive species in Florida, where it has become established and has had a significant impact on native wildlife populations.

Zebra Mussel 

Native to Europe and Asia, the Zebra Mussel has invaded waterways throughout North America, where it can damage water treatment facilities, clog pipes, and outcompete native species.

Asian Carp

Originally from China, the Asian Carp has invaded many waterways in North America, where it poses a threat to the food web by outcompeting native fish and disrupting ecosystems.

Emerald Ash Borer

This invasive beetle is responsible for killing millions of ash trees in North America, resulting in significant economic and ecological impacts.

Giant Hogweed

Originally from Asia, this invasive plant can grow up to 15 feet tall and produce a toxic sap that can cause severe burns and blisters on human skin.

These are just a few examples of the many invasive species that can pose a threat to the environment, economy, and/or human health. It is important to be aware of invasive species in your area and take steps to prevent their spread.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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