Nipping aquatic plant invasions in the bud: weed risk assessment and the trade
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- Champion, P.D., Clayton, J.S. & Hofstra, D.E. Hydrobiologia (2010) 656: 167. doi:10.1007/s10750-010-0446-x
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The importation and sale of ornamental pond and aquarium plants is the most important pathway for the introduction of potential aquatic weeds into and subsequent spread of these within a country. Most current aquatic weeds were at one time deliberately imported for ornamental use. This article discusses a weed risk assessment approach to evaluating new potential weeds. It assesses the potential invasiveness of an aquatic plant based on its habitat versatility, competitive ability, reproductive output and dispersal mechanisms, range of potential impacts, potential distribution and resistance to management activities. The Aquatic Weed Risk Assessment Model (AWRAM) has been used to evaluate potential aquatic weeds in New Zealand, Australia and the USA. A similar approach could be used to guide the management of aquatic weeds in Europe. Banning the importation of highly ranked species effectively keeps biosecurity risks off-shore. Assessment of aquatic plant trade patterns, especially volumes of high-risk species, along with knowledge of current and potential distribution of those species and ease of management, are all factors to be considered when evaluating candidate plants for prevention of sale and distribution. This is a highly effective way of restricting both long-distance dispersal and density of propagules. A cooperative approach involving researchers, policy and trade representatives has been an effective way to achieve regulation of this risk pathway. European initiatives to prevent the distribution of potential aquatic weeds include the preparation of lists of known invasive aquatic species by the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization (EPPO), with recommendations to member countries to consider measures to prevent their spread (e.g. banning importation of, banning sale and distribution of, and undertaking control programmes against those species). Belgian initiatives include an upcoming Royal Decree concerning the importation, exportation and possession of non-native invasive species, development of codes of conduct with the horticultural sector and prohibiting the sale, purchase and intentional release of these species in the wild. This article reviews these approaches and discusses other species of concern.