While studying invasive species, a Ph.D. student and his supervisors were surprised to find that governments were giving little attention to schemes that dealt with the often preventable invasion of foreign species into new environments.
These "alien species" invasions can cause a great amount of damage to the biodiversity of the environment they invade.
Yet, the researchers found that most measures taken were reactive rather than preventative.
A preventable problem
South African Ph.D. student Ashlyn L. Padayachee (University of KwaZulu-Natal, UKZN) and her supervisors, Serban Proches (UKZN) and John Wilson (SANBI and Stellenbosch University) were studying invasive species when they realized there was a preventable problem that was being largely ignored.
What's more, the problem causes wide-ranging negative impacts on native biodiversity.
Published in the open access NeoBiota journal, the team's research shows that focus should be changed from the most widespread invasive species to the next highly damaging invaders ahead of their arrival.
This has a preventative knock-on effect by cutting off the supply of food of the most invasive species before they even arrive.
New guidelines for decision makers
The study also provides decision makers around the world with a new set of guidelines that helps them identify and prevent species invasion.
Using Durban in South Africa as a reference, the researchers identified cities with a similar climate and used existing environmental criteria, alien species watch lists, and introduction pathways to identify species that are not present in South Africa, but show a high risk of invasion.
The team then identified which of those species are likely to be able to migrate to the city and developed a climatic suitability model for each one.
Finally, the scientists linked the climate and pathway information so as to identify locations in Durban to be considered the focus of contingency planning for specific species.
The researchers say their guidelines will help prevent damaging species invasions that are an often overlooked form of environmental damage when compared with climate change.