Iron Curtain Protected Against Species Invasions
As we found in the tale last month of Eugene Schieffelin and the introduction of the American Starling to New York’s Central Park, species’ arrivals in new climes can have unusual human roots. Imagine now if you could look on a much broader scale—and see effects that decades of enforced political boundaries have had on the diversity of animal life.
A group of researchers from The Biodiversity Research Group at Hebrew University of Jerusalem have narrowed in on a unique test case: the iron curtain that bifurcated Europe throughout the Cold War. The boundary created two virtually separate regions of movement and commerce. The scientists cite striking numbers on North American trade with the Former Soviet Union. Total trade amounted to $236 million in 1946, down to $10 million in 1950 and again to under $2 million between North America and the entire community of communist nations by 1956.
In research published in the journal Conservation Biology, the team looks at the introduction of bird species during the Cold War—that also changed right along those political lines.
The results found make a certain intuitive sense. As it happens, the iron curtain did shield Eastern Europe from the arrival of new species during the Cold War decades. Far fewer ‘introduction events’ occurred in Eastern than Western Europe. For the most part, where introductions occurred in the East or the West, they tended to come from areas with which a region had open relations. Western Europe saw more birds appear from North America and Africa.
After the end of the Cold War, the numbers changed again. Introductions to Eastern Europe have risen.
In the end, without delving too far into the statistics, the takeaway from this research is probably just another reminder. Peoples’ trading and travel doesn’t happen in a vacuum. They happen on a planet, and, as the researchers point out, that is unlikely to change. With the passage of time, as nations of the former Eastern Bloc become more integrated with the global economy, the scientists warn that the threat of serious species invasions has risen again.
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