Pandemics and biological invasions, two sides of the same coin

Increasingly, humans, deliberately or accidentally, remove animals, plants and microorganisms from their habitats and transport them to other parts of the world. This phenomenon, known as biological invasion, causes many environmental and socio-economic impacts. In the case of invasions of exotic species, the overall cost estimate is at least $ 162 million annually.

Infectious diseases caused by pathogens and parasites share similar characteristics with biological invasions. However, while the former are studied by expert scientists in biomedicine, the latter have traditionally been studied by specialists in ecology.

“To solve the problems caused by these organisms, a closer collaboration is needed, which could benefit both disciplines”, explains the professor. Montserrat Vilà, researcher at the Doñana Biological Station and main author of a study on the relationships between infectious diseases that cause epidemics and biological invasions published in the journal BioScience.

To solve the problems caused by these organizations, closer collaboration is needed, which could benefit both disciplines.

Montserrat Vilà

Global trade and transportation

In a globalized world, the appearance and spread of many human infectious pathogens are biological invasion events par excellence. Some invasive species themselves contribute to the emergence and transmission of pathogens. For example, invasive mosquitoes are important vectors of diseases such as dengue and dengue fever. zika virus, while many non-native pets can transmit salmonellosis, herpes, rabies or dermatitis.

The research team analyzed the fundamental concepts that guide the investigation of biological invasions and epidemics and has found many parallels. The pressure of propagules, the traits of the species, the biotic interactions, the eco-evolutionary experience and the alterations of the ecosystems promote both biological invasions and the appearance of emerging infectious diseases.

“For example, accelerated urbanization in natural habitats means that the species that live there are in close contact with people. This gives pathogens new opportunities to switch from their host to a human. It also allows invasive species to colonize natural habitats near urban areas ”, he explains. Belinda gallardo, scientist at the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology (IPE-CSIC) and co-author of the work.

Accelerated urbanization in natural habitats means that the species that live there are in close contact with people

Belinda gallardo

Similarly, global trade has established a dense transport network that allows pathogens and invasive species to travel around the world in short periods of time.

Indisciplinary collaboration in biosafety

The scientific team recommends a comprehensive approach that takes into account the health of humans, animals, plants and the environment in general to prevent future pandemics and the spread of invasive species around the world. This perspective, called one biosecurity, is built on the basis that natural ecosystems are irreplaceable.

It concludes that many forecasting and management tools used to address epidemics they could be applied to biological invasions and vice versa. Therefore, the team advocates for a greater exchange of ideas between the two disciplines to improve the prediction, prevention, treatment and mitigation of invasive species and infectious disease outbreaks, including those pandemics.


Vilà M, AM Dunn et al. “Viewing emerging human infectious epidemics through the lens of invasion biology”. BioScience.

Rights: Creative Commons.

There is always something that no one else sees but is there. ‘Paraso’ trailer

Diesel rationing paralyzes Venezuelan agriculture