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E‐commerce trade in invasive plants

Humair, Franziska, Humair, Luc, Kuhn, Fabian, Kueffer, Christoph
Conservation biology 2015 v.29 no.6 pp. 1658-1665
Internet, Spermatophyta, algorithms, auctions, biosecurity, e-commerce, ecological invasion, flora, horticulture, industry, international trade, introduced species, invasive species, monitoring, new species, risk assessment, socioeconomics, trade regulations, woody plants
Biological invasions are a major concern in conservation, especially because global transport of species is still increasing rapidly. Conservationists hope to anticipate and thus prevent future invasions by identifying and regulating potentially invasive species through species risk assessments and international trade regulations. Among many introduction pathways of non‐native species, horticulture is a particularly important driver of plant invasions. In recent decades, the horticultural industry expanded globally and changed structurally through the emergence of new distribution channels, including internet trade (e‐commerce). Using an automated search algorithm, we surveyed, on a daily basis, e‐commerce trade on 10 major online auction sites (including eBay) of approximately three‐fifths of the world's spermatophyte flora. Many recognized invasive plant species (>500 species) (i.e., species associated with ecological or socio‐economic problems) were traded daily worldwide on the internet. A markedly higher proportion of invasive than non‐invasive species were available online. Typically, for a particular plant family, 30–80% of recognized invasive species were detected on an auction site, but only a few percentages of all species in the plant family were detected on a site. Families that were more traded had a higher proportion of invasive species than families that were less traded. For woody species, there was a significant positive relationship between the number of regions where a species was sold and the number of regions where it was invasive. Our results indicate that biosecurity is not effectively regulating online plant trade. In the future, automated monitoring of e‐commerce may help prevent the spread of invasive species, provide information on emerging trade connectivity across national borders, and be used in horizon scanning exercises for early detection of new species and their geographic source areas in international trade.