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Global trade and the spread of invasive species

Date: March 01, 2018

Researchers are working to improve early detection systems for the spread of invasive species via international trade


Shipping is one of the primary ways that non-native species spread throughout the world. Species hitchhike on trade goods, aboard shipping containers, on agricultural commodities, in the ballast water of ships, and in wood packaging materials. Once introduced, these non-native, or non-indigenous species, have the potential to spread rapidly and wreak havoc on native ecosystems. Rates of introduction of non-natives are expected to increase in the future due to greater integration of world economies and new and expanded shipping routes. 

Zebra mussels are one invasive aquatic species that hitchhikes on boats. (Photo by Amy Benson, U.S. Geologic Survey via
Zebra mussels are one invasive aquatic species that hitchhikes on boats. (Photo by Amy Benson, U.S. Geologic Survey via


Scientists, engineers, and economists have joined together to learn more about the link between trade and species spread around the globe. This project is titled the Non-indigenous Species World Risk Assessment and Prediction System (NIS-WRAPS). Travis Warziniack, a Research Economist at RMRS, and colleagues are working to pair global models of trade and ship movements with ecological models of habitat suitability and projections of future climate conditions. Together, these models will predict future sources of invasive species and identify at-risk aquatic ecosystems. The research team has honed in on two main scenarios that are likely to affect species spread: trade liberalization among Asia-Pacific countries and more reliable shipping through the Arctic due to melting sea ice. Working with ship operators and policymakers, the team hopes to improve early detection systems for invasive species and ship biofouling policies.

Key Findings

  • Previous research has shown that trade liberalization will affect the relative shares of trade between the US and Asia-Pacific countries, with Japanese imports into the US seeing the largest percentage increase. The team found that the invasive species risk will change as this trade liberalization occurs. Japanese imports into the US are expected to have the largest percentage increase in trade with the US overall. By comparison, trade routes through the Arctic affect the volume of trade more than they do the composition of traded goods or shares from trade partners.

  • Trade is expected to increase substantially from China to the US East Coast. Climates are similar enough that both Japanese and Chinese species are likely to be a threat to the US. In general, aquatic environments are closer climate matches than terrestrial environments, and therefore, may be at greater risk.

  • They also found Arctic shipping lanes will lead to substantial increases trade between the Asia-Pacific and Europe. European climates, however, are not as likely to be favorable to Asian species, with the exception of Japan, which matches most European climates.

The National Science Foundation provided funding for this project, specifically to study the movement of harmful species around the globe by traveling on ships.


Reference Publications from Related Projects

Implications for U.S. trade and nonindigenous species risk resulting from increased economic integration of the Asia-Pacific region. Countryman, Amanda; Warziniack, Travis; Grey, Erin. Society and Natural Resources, In Press.

Risk Analysis and Bioeconomics of Invasive Species to Inform Policy and Management. David M. Lodge, Paul W. Simonin, Stanley W. Burgiel, Reuben P. Keller, Jonathan M. Bossenbroek, Christopher L. Jerde, Andrew M. Kramer, Edward S. Rutherford, Matthew A. Barnes, Marion E. Wittmann, W. Lindsay Chadderton, Jenny L. Apriesnig, Dmitry Beletsky, Roger M. Cooke, John M. Drake, Scott P. Egan, David C. Finnoff, Crysta A. Gantz, Erin K. Grey, Michael H. Hoff, Jennifer G. Howeth, Richard A. Jensen, Eric R. Larson, Nicholas E. Mandrak, Doran M. Mason, Felix A. Martinez, Tammy J. Newcomb, John D. Rothlisberger, Andrew J. Tucker, Travis W. Warziniack, Hongyan Zhang. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 2016 41:1, 453-488 

Using environmental DNA to track non-indigenous species in shipping ports. Deiner, Kristy, Nitesh Chawla, Amanda Leister, Thanuka Wickramarathne, Erin Grey, Jian Xu, James Corbett, Michael Pfrender, Travis Warziniack, and Yiyuan Li.  GENOME, vol. 58, no. 5, pp. 210-210, 2015.

Featured Publications

Warziniack, Travis ; Finnoff, David ; Shogren, Jason F. , 2013
Warziniack, Travis ; Finnoff, David ; Bossenbroek, Jonathan ; Shogren, Jason F. ; Lodge, David. , 2011

National Strategic Program Areas: 
Invasive Species
National Priority Research Areas: 
Localized Needs
RMRS Science Program Areas: 
Human Dimensions
RMRS Strategic Priorities: 
Human-Landscape Interactions
National; International
Principal Investigators: 
External Partners: 
Nitesh Chawla - University of Notre Dame
Jim Corbett - University of Delaware
Erin Grey – Governors State University
Amanda Countryman - Colorado State University
David Lodge – Cornell University
Mike Pfrender - University of Notre Dame
Thanuka Wickramarathne - University of Notre Dame