Invasive species have a major effect on many sectors of the U.S. economy and on the well-being of its citizens. Their presence impacts animal and human health, military readiness, urban vegetation and infrastructure, water, energy and transportations systems, and indigenous peoples in the United States. They alter bio-physical systems and cultural practices and require significant public and private expenditure for control. This chapter provides examples of the impacts to human systems and explains mechanisms of invasive species' establishment and spread within sectors of the U.S. economy. From Invasive Species in Forests and Rangelands of the United States: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis for the United States Forest Sector.
Human Health Impacts
Invasive species can negatively impact human health by infecting humans with new diseases, serving as vectors for existing diseases, or causing wounds through bites, stings, allergens, or other toxins (Mazza et al. 2013). For instance, the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), often considered the most invasive mosquito in the world, serves as a vector for many diseases, including West Nile Virus and Dengue fever (Benedict et al. 2007).
Other examples include the Africanized honey bee (Apis mellifera scutellata), which demonstrates more aggressive behavior than the European honey bee and has been known to attack humans and domestic animals in larger swarms and over longer distances (Ellis and Ellis 2008), and the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), which can inflict extremely painful stings (Jemal and Hugh-Jones 1993).
See also: General Invasive Species Impacts
- Benedict, M.Q., R.S. Levine, W.A. Hawley, and L.P. Lounibos. 2007. Spread of the tiger: global risk of invasion by the mosquito Aedes albopictus. Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases 7(1):76-85.
- Ellis, J., and A. Ellis. 2008. African honey bee, Africanized honey bee, or killer bee, Apis mellifera scutellata Lepeletier (Hymenoptera: Apidae). In: J.L. Capinera (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Entomology (Vol. 4, pp. 59-66). Dordrecht: Springer.
- Jemal, A., and M. Hugh-Jones. 1993. A review of the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta Buren) and its impacts on plant, animal, and human health. Preventative Veterinary Medicine 17(1-2):19-32.
- Mazza, G., E. Tricario, P. Genovesi, and F. Gherardi. 2013. Biological invaders are threats to human health: an overview. Ethology Ecology & Evolution 26:112-129.
USDA. Forest Service.
National Invasive Species Council. Invasive Species Advisory Committee.
Although the scientific literature has relatively few publications on the subject, the expanding distribution of ticks and their associated disease-causing pathogens are increasingly shown to be facilitated by the presence of certain invasive plant species, particularly plant understory and transition-zone species. Invasive species have been found to contribute to the spread and survival of ticks, hosts, and various disease-causing pathogens. For those species that have been investigated, several invasive plant species such as Japanese honeysuckle and barberry have been definitively shown to harbor and enhance tick, host, and pathogen populations by enhancing microhabitat and survival. Additionally, non-native tick species such as Asian longhorn tick have been introduced and potentially new invasive tick-borne pathogens or hosts can, and likely will, be introduced in the future. For more publications, see ISAC White Papers.
The section below contains highly relevant resources for this subject, organized by source. Or, to display all related content view all resources for Human Health Impacts
CAB International. Blog.
The damage that invasive species can cause to the environment and the economy are well known, but impacts on human health have been much less analysed. However, invasive species can cause impacts ranging from psychological effects, phobias, discomfort and nuisance to allergies, poisoning, bites, disease and even death.
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity; World Health Organization.
See in particular Chapter 3: Freshwater, Wetlands, Biodiversity and Human Health, section 5.1 "Aquatic Invasive Alien Species" and Chapter 7: Infectious Diseases, section 2.3.4 "Implications of Biotic Exchange (Invasive Alien Species)".
Restoring islands through the removal of non-native invasive mammals is a powerful biodiversity conservation tool. This new study now shows that human communities on islands could benefit from restoration actions, which can potentially reduce or eliminate the burden of diseases transmitted to people by invasive species. Simply put, removal of invasive species can benefit human health in addition to ecological health.