European colonialism is still evident in the spread and prevalence of plants in countries around the world, according to new research involving our Department of Biosciences.
The study shows that the set of non-native plants in regions that were once occupied by the same European power are more similar to each other compared to other regions. In addition, similarity of these introduced plant floras is greater when regions were occupied for longer periods by an empire.
These effects are due to the introduction by Europeans of many plants, which subsequently became established and persisted.
European powers introduced species mainly for economic reasons in order to ensure the survival of their population and to foster the establishment of settlements, next to aesthetic and nostalgic reasons. In particular, many plant species were introduced to and from the colonized regions for food, animal food or horticulture. This has resulted in the pattern of shared introduced plants that are now part of the floras of countries in different continents.
The researchers, who were led by the University of Vienna, state that the effects of historical empires on exchange of species across the world are still felt today, through trade and transport link with overseas territories and among countries with common languages.
The researchers also say there are many examples of plants which were introduced in the past that have negative, sometimes irreversible, impacts on biodiversity and people’s livelihoods far into the future.