Invasive Species Are Spreading Through Trade on eBay and Amazon

May 9, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

Floating pennywort, an aquatic plant that takes over rivers and ponds in the UK
Photo credit: Simon Mortimer/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0). Floating pennywort is an invasive species in the UK

Every day, hundreds of invasive species are traded online.

Invasive species are organisms that occupy habitats outside of their native range and tend to spread, causing damage to the environment and economy. The rate at which non-native species are being introduced is increasing in most countries, due in part to the rise of new distribution channels, including e-commerce.

Amazon and eBay were recently implicated in hosting ads to ship banned invasive species into the UK, according to a report by The Guardian.

The sites carried listings for aquatic plants that are popularly used in ponds and aquariums, including floating pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides), water fern (Azolla filiculoides) and parrot’s feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum). All are native to the Americas, and all are invasive species in the UK that have been banned from entering the country.

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Once established, all three species tend to grow rapidly and have detrimental effects. They clog waterways, making it difficult for boats to navigate and increasing risk of flooding, and they outcompete native species.

The ban means the selling or advertising the shipment of those species to the UK is illegal. According to the report, it is unknown whether legal action will be taken against the companies or sellers involved.

This is not an isolated incident. A 2015 study published in the journal Conservation Biology found that more than 500 invasive plant species are traded daily worldwide over the Internet. Online purchases appear not to be effectively regulated, according to the study.

Many invasive species can easily be obtained with a few clicks of a mouse. Until there is more stringent regulation of online trade in invasive species, it is up to consumers to be aware of their country’s restrictions on wildlife.

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