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New study identifies Florida’s potential invasive species threats

In a first-of-its-kind study for North America, scientists accumulated a list of potential invasive species for Florida, and researchers deemed 40 pose the greatest threat.

A team of experts, led by University of Florida scientists, evaluated terrestrial, aquatic and marine species with characteristics that make them particularly adept at invasion. Their list includes 460 vertebrates, invertebrates, algae and plants.

“Invasive species management tends to be reactive, instead of preventative,” said Deah Lieurance, who led the project as the then-coordinator of the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants and is now an assistant professor of invasive species biology and management at Penn State University. “This was the reason behind this project: to protect Florida’s natural areas, while also saving the money and effort that would go into management strategies.”

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services estimated that the annual cost for invasive species management globally in 2019 was $423 billion, and that cost is estimated to quadruple every decade.

Florida is “ground zero” for invasions in the United States, says Matthew Thomas, the director of the UF/IFAS Invasion Science Research Initiative, which was created in 2022 to address the state’s unique challenges.

Lieurance and the working group of experts from academia, state and federal agencies, and non-profits conducted what is known as a horizon scan, or the systematic examination of information by experts to identify emerging issues, opportunities and unknown risks to inform policy and decision-making.