Best of our wild blogs: 20 Aug 15

The Singapore’s Women Weekly – Great Women of Our Time 2015 – Nomination for the “Sports, Health and Wellness” category
Neo Mei Lin

Red-whiskered Bulbul and Singapore Rhododendron
Bird Ecology Study Group

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These crawlies are stars of a new book

More than 200 species of water bugs detailed in book launched by natural history museum
Audrey Tan Straits Times 20 Aug 15;

Water bugs may be neither cuddly nor rare, but they play a vital role in their aquatic habitats.

These commonly overlooked creepy crawlies are now the stars of a new guidebook. Titled Water Bugs Of Singapore And Peninsular Malaysia, it was launched on Aug 5 by the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

The book has information on the more than 200 species of water bugs found in the region, and includes data on general biology, diversity and distribution. It also has 755 illustrations to help readers identify the bugs easily.

Co-author Lanna Cheng, 74, a marine biologist, said the 334-page book is the most comprehensive scientific guide on water bugs in the region and updates a 1963 guide written by water bug expert Herbert Fernando and herself for students at the former University of Singapore (now NUS). The old guide, typewritten on foolscap paper, was only 33 pages long. It was never formally published, but was the only one available in the region until now.

The new guide sheds light on the ecological functions of these bugs.

Some species of water stick insects and backswimmers, for example, feed on mosquito larvae or pupae, and are good pest-control agents. Others, like most species of water striders, live on the water's surface. As they are greatly affected by surface pollution such as oil spills, and can be found only in clean waters, they are good indicators of ecosystem health.

Water bugs can be found in almost every water body on earth, whether marine, freshwater, or man-made. In Singapore, they are present in places such as the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, the mangroves in Sungei Buloh, reservoirs, shores, and the ponds in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

While the new guidebook is a scientific work, those interested in learning more about water bugs and how to identify them can also refer to it, said Dr Cheng who is from the United States-based Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

"We avoided dull, scientific writing, wrote it in a way that is easily understandable and standardised the book so each chapter has the same arrangement," she added. "There is also a glossary that explains all the scientific terms."

The other authors are Dr Tran Anh Duc, a 36-year-old Vietnamese who earned his PhD on water insects at NUS, and Mrs Yang Chang Man, 71, custodian of the Zoological Reference Collection, which formed the core of the former Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. In April, the museum became the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. The water bugs guide is the first natural history book published by the museum under its new name. The museum had earlier published a book on its history and an e-book on Hokkien names for animals.

Said Professor Peter Ng, the museum's head: "The book is a consequence of the bloodline of passion and a shared love for a group of animals that is illogical to anyone else.

"It is one that spans the better part of three generations - and the connecting passion is a love for studying water bugs."

• Water Bugs Of Singapore And Peninsular Malaysia ($22) can be bought at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum shop, Kinokuniya and Select Books.

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Slight haze due to smoke from fires in Sumatra: NEA

"Occasional hazy conditions may persist overnight and tomorrow," the National Environment Agency says in an advisory issued on Wednesday evening.
Channel NewsAsia 19 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: The slightly hazy situation in Singapore on Wednesday afternoon (Aug 19) is due to "smoke haze from fires in Sumatra being blown in by the prevailing south-southwesterly winds," said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in an advisory.

Members of the public reported hazy skies in areas such as Jurong, Buona Vista and Beach Road.

At 7pm, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index or PSI, was 62-68 - within the Moderate Range, NEA added.

Similar hazy situation in Beach Road.

According to NEA, smoke plumes from hotspots in central and southern Sumatra have been observed in the past few days, with 116 and 42 hotspots detected in Sumatra on Monday and Tuesday respectively.

Just 12 hotspots were observed on Wednesday, but NEA said this is due to the "partial satellite pass".

"Occasional hazy conditions may persist overnight and tomorrow," NEA stated, adding that "everyone can continue with normal activities".

- CNA/hs

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Malaysia: El Nino weather phenomenon likely to cause dry spell but also lessen flood woes


PETALING JAYA: This year’s El Nino weather phenomenon could be the strongest in over half a century but it may turn out to be a mixed blessing for Malaysia.

Climate expert Prof Datuk Dr Azizan Abu Samah said less rainfall due to El Nino could affect the Klang Valley’s water woes and padi planting in Kedah.

However, it may also lessen the chances of severe year-end floods in states such as Kelantan and Pahang.

“In some ways the effect could be positive for us,” said Azizan, who is the director of the University of Malaya’s National Antarctic Research Centre.

Last week, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said this year’s El Nino, which began in March and is forecast to last for about a year, could be the worst in 65 years.

El Nino is an irregular weather phenomenon which causes sea temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean to rise, leading to unusually heavy rains in some parts of the world and drought elsewhere.

The last extreme El Nino took place in 1997-98, causing the hottest year on record as well as floods, cyclones, droughts and huge damage to food production.

Azizan said lower rainfall had decreased water levels at rivers such as Sungai Johor, causing a month-long scheduled water distribution exercise in some areas in Johor Baru and Kota Tinggi.

On whether El Nino could lead to dry taps in the Klang Valley, Azizan said the current water woes in the area was due to a low reserve margin for treated water, not a looming shortage of raw water supply.

A strong El Nino could cause water levels in Selangor rivers to drop, which could aggravate ­serious reserve margin problems but the earliest this might happen was during the dry season in February next year, he said.

In Kedah, very low rainfall early next year could affect the planting season in March, but Malaysia will not be the only country at risk.

A drought in northern Australia, for example, may affect soybean and wheat harvests.

The potential effects of a strong El Nino on Malaysia are not all negative, though.

The risk of massive flooding in north-eastern peninsular Malaysia could be lower with less than usual rainfall during the year-end period.

“In the event that soybean harvests in countries such as Australia are hit, Malaysian palm oil, which is an alternative product, could stand to gain,” said Azizan.

Meteorological Department National Weather Centre senior meteorologist Dr Hisham Mohd Anip said there were already signs of significantly reduced rainfall in the past few months.

He said the people of Sabah and Sarawak would be the first to feel the impact of the El Nino as the states were located closer to the Pacific Ocean.

“The rainfall in Kudat, Kota Kinabalu, Tawau and several areas in Sarawak has dropped by more than 50%,” he said.

Hisham said the department was providing regular El Nino updates to state-level officials to help them prepare in the event that the situation worsened.

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Malaysia: Fish bombings near oil rigs

STEPHANIE LEE The Star 20 Aug 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Cases of illegal fish bombing near the national oil company’s oil rigs off Sabah is triggering alarm bells as it could lead to serious losses and environmental damage.

Petronas Sabah and Labuan chairman Mohamed Firouz Asnan said fishermen carrying out the illegal activity preferred to let off bombs close to the oil rigs as there was an abundance of fish in the area.

“According to our records, the number of such cases are quite big and it is an alarming situation for us,” he said during a media briefing on the Sahabat Maritim Programme here yesterday.

He said such acts not only pose a danger to the fishermen themselves but also disrupt operations, damage Petronas assets and endanger the lives of their divers carrying out their duties.

Firouz said Petronas also recorded a high occurrence encroachment by vessels coming within the 500m safety radius of its rigs.

Some 9,000 encroachment incidents occurred over the last three years, with Sabah making up the most of it, he said, adding that encroachment was an everyday incident.

In a bid to reduce fish bombing and encroachment activities, Petronas is working with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency to curb the problem through various awareness programmes.

The Sahabat Maritim Outreach programme will be held at Pulau Mantanani off Kota Belud district on Saturday and it will involve everyone in the area.

MMEA’s Sabah and Labuan Maritime operations director Laksamana Pertama Adam Aziz, however, said they were able to act against the illegal fisher bombers and the number of cases had steadily decreased since 2012.

“This is due to the ongoing operations conducted by enforcement agencies at sea,” he said, adding that it was not an easy task preventing fishermen from going near oil rigs as the fish near the area were grade A.

Apart from the abundance of fish there, fishermen were also attracted by the types of fish that can be found there, such as red snapper and Kerapu, Adam said.

“It is also difficult for us to bring the cases down to zero because many of those who tend to bend the law are non-registered fishermen and illegal immigrants,” he added.

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Indonesia: WWF acquires new tiger conservation area in Jambi

The Jakarta Post 18 Aug 15;

Native tigers, elephants and orangutans now have more space to live in Sumatra following the opening of a brand new conservation area in the Bukit Tigapuluh area of Jambi.

The government recently issued an ecosystem restoration license to PT Alam Bukit Tigapuluh, a for-profit company established by a group of environmental organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), The Orangutan Project and Rainforest Trust, with the support of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, KfW German bank and other institutions.

The license allows the company to pursue activities that protect and restore forests, 20 percent of which have been degraded by encroachment and logging. According to WWF, these activities will include selling rattan, developing shade-grown ‘jungle rubber’ and harvesting medicinal plants in the forest as well as ecotourism.

“This incredible place, where tigers, elephants and orangutans coexist in the wild, is also one of the most threatened. Our work to protect this area is an example of what can be accomplished when concerned organizations, governments and individuals work together to create a future where both nature and people can thrive,” said actor Leonardo DiCaprio in a press statement. DiCaprio is the founder of the eponymous foundation.

According to WWF record 30 Sumatran tigers, 120 Sumatran elephants and 160 Sumatran orangutans live in the 140,000-hectare Bukit Tigapuluh National Park, adjacent to the new 40,000-hectare restoration area.

“The national park has many steep areas that are not good for elephants, so this new project will improve their lives. While for tigers, they will have bigger individual territory to hunt for prey. Each Sumatran tiger naturally needs hundreds of square-kilometers of territory. The orangutan population is expected to increase to more than 300 in this restored and protected ecosystem,” WWF Wildlife and Landscape Ecologist Sunarto told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

Bukit Tigapuluh is a place where many prey animals for tigers live, such as wild boars, deer and monkeys. The new restoration will not only benefit tigers, but also balance the ecosystem.

“Wild boars will have a less destructive impact on vegetation as they will face more predators in the restored habitat,” Sunarto said.

As part of the protection and development of the area, PT Alam Bukit Tigapuluh will also involve the local tribes living in the forests, including the Talang Mamak and Anak Dalam. (rbk)

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Indonesia: Haze from neighboring provinces covers Riau

Rizal Harahap and Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 20 Aug 15;
Forest and land fires in the neighboring provinces of Jambi and South Sumatra have been blamed for haze in a number of regions in Riau, including Pekanbaru and Dumai on Wednesday morning.

Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Edwar Sanger, however, said that the haze could not have come from forest and land fires in Riau as the latest data showed there were no massive fires in the province.

Quoting data from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), Edwar said that only two hot spots were detected on Wednesday, both of which were located at the border of Tesso Nilo National Park and Langgam district in Pelalawan regency.

“The haze was not significant,” Edwar told The Jakarta Post, Wednesday.

The fact that the satellites detected 51 hot spots in Jambi and 30 others in South Sumatra further strengthened the assumption that the haze in Riau came from fires in Jambi and South Sumatra.

“Both provinces are burning. Riau is still under control,” Edwar said.

He added that his agency would continue to coordinate with both provinces and offer aid to help extinguish the fires in the two provinces, for example by dropping water from Pekanbaru.

Haze has also been blanketing East Tanjungjabung regency, Jambi, for the last few days due to land fires in Mendahara Ulu district and in areas around Paduka Berhala Sports Hall.

“The visibility is only some 200 meters. It’s also difficult to breathe,” Amin of Mendahara Ulu said, Wednesday.

Haze also covered East Tanjungjabung waters, limiting visibility to some 50 meters.

“The haze has been here for the last two days. Today is relatively thick,” said Umar, a local, who owns a speed boat.

Responding to the condition, Regency Health Agency head Samsiran Halim called on people to take precautions against the impacts of haze on their health. He also called on them to wear masks when outdoors.

“We have been distributing masks for a few days through community health centers [Puskesmas],” Samsiran said, adding that if people ran out of masks they could get them at his office.

According to the BMKG’s Jambi station, 107 hot spots were detected across the province. The station’s forecaster, Kurnianingsih, said previously that it had detected only 37 hot spots.

The hot spots were detected in Muaro Jambi (32 spots), East Tanjung Jabung (30), Sarolangun (12), Tebo (9), Batanghari (5), Merangin (3) and Kerinci (1).

“The accuracy is 70 percent, meaning that there are indications of fires,” Kurnianingsih said, adding that the haze had not disrupted flight activities as visibility in the regions was still considered normal.

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Islamic experts urge more Muslim action on climate change

Channel NewsAsia 18 Aug 15;

ISTANBUL: A group of Islamic experts urged the world's 1.6 billion Muslims on Tuesday to do more to fight global warming, in a new example of religious efforts to galvanise action before a U.N. climate summit in Paris in December.

In June, the world's most important Christian leader, Pope Francis, urged world leaders to hear "the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor" in an encyclical on the environment for the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

Unlike Roman Catholicism, Islam is a highly decentralised religion with no single recognised authority. But Muslim experts from 20 nations agreed an 8-page declaration at talks in Istanbul where it was adopted by 60 participants including the Grand Muftis of Uganda and Lebanon, a statement said.

"Excessive pollution from fossil fuels threatens to destroy the gifts bestowed on us by God, whom we know as Allah – gifts such as a functioning climate, healthy air to breathe, regular seasons, and living oceans," they wrote.

They said inaction on reining in manmade greenhouse gas emissions, from factories, power plants and cars, would mean "dire consequences to planet earth".

The declaration called on rich governments - and oil-producing states that include some OPEC nations where Islam is the state religion - to lead the way in "phasing out their greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible and no later than the middle of the century."

It is unclear what weight the Islamic declaration will have for Muslims in the run-up to the climate summit in Paris from Nov. 30-Dec. 11.

Din Syamsuddin, chairman of a Muslim organisation in Indonesia which has some 30 million members, welcomed Tuesday's declaration. "Let’s work together for a better world for our children, and our children’s children," he said.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, a key collaborator on the papal encyclical, praised the declaration and promised closer cooperation with Muslims "to care for our common home and thus to glorify the God who created us."

Christiana Figueres, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said religion was a guide for action.

"Islam's teachings, which emphasise the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behaviour, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change," she said in a statement.

(Writing by Alister Doyle in Oslo; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

- Reuters

Muslims to join in efforts on climate change
Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 19 Aug 15;

Indonesia is set to play an important role in rallying Islamic communities in the battle against climate change as the country will be among those signing an “Islamic Climate Change Declaration” that is set to be launched during a symposium on Aug. 18 in Turkey, Istanbul.

Despite being one of the countries under serious threat from climate change due to its geography, the majority of people are still oblivious to the challenge, according to Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) chairman Din Syamsuddin, who will represent the country during the International Islamic Climate Change symposium from Aug. 17 to 18.

“We are very embarrassed that Islamic communities have not been progressive enough [in combating climate change],” he said over the weekend. “Seeing as how two-thirds of people in the world follow a religion, a religious approach is important [in tackling climate change],”

Therefore, the planned declaration will be an important intervention by religious leaders and will act as a crucial rallying call ahead of the United Nations [UN] climate change negotiations that are to be held in Paris in December.

“We will spread the word all around the world. I will declare it in Indonesia,” Din said.

The declaration will explain why climate change is the world’s most pressing challenge, and why 1.6 billion Muslims across the globe have a religious duty to play their part in tackling it and the manner in which they can fulfil this duty.

“Environmental sustainability and religions are closely linked, therefore religions through their followers have to take up the role and act on a global level to solve the problem,” Din said. “Indonesia as a Muslim-majority country could become a trendsetter. We will also launch a joint movement in line with government programs.”

Din has earlier said that Islam could be a religion of nature with some 750 out of around 6,000 verses in the Koran touching on nature, the environment and all of its inter-connectedness.

Despite being Indonesia’s top Islamic clerical body, Din said that the MUI had limited capacity and thus needed help from all stakeholders in mobilizing Muslims.

“The state, the government and the UN need to improve the role of religious leaders in raising awareness of the need for collaboration because problems cannot be solved only by one party,” he said.

So far, the MUI has been trying to raise awareness on climate change by issuing a fatwa on environmental sustainability.

“The fatwa is about respecting the environment with an Islamic concept, such as planting trees, nurturing them as well as knowing how we should treat plants and animals,” Din said. “Our position as a religious organization is to raise awareness. If there’s a fatwa on conservation, then it should be included in preaching material. There are thousands of Islamic preachers. If they use their voices, this will be a massive public education campaign. If we’re using religion, then it will latch onto people’s minds,” said Din.

However, the fatwa so far has failed to resonate with Islamic preachers.

To prepare for the symposium, Din consulted with Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar during a meeting on Saturday.

“I felt the need to explain to him [Din] the nature of what we are preparing and doing, as well as our vision,” Siti said.

Siti went on to say that the planned shift to renewable energy was a key focus of the government and that it would bring the campaign to the international community.

“We have stopped issuing new permits for coal mining [in forest areas],” Siti said. “The moratorium has been implemented although an official decree has not been issued.”

Din himself has been pushing for a complete shift to renewable energy by setting up a petition at that demands President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon set a renewable energy target of 100 percent by 2050.

Can Islamic scholars change thinking on climate change?
Declaration calls on Muslims to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Davide Castelvecchi, Quirin Schiermeier & Richard Hodson Nature 19 Aug 15;

Muslim scholars have called on the world's 1.6 billion Muslims to do more to phase out greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil fuels.

Fewer than four months before politicians gather in Paris to try to hammer out an international climate agreement, Islamic scholars have underscored the urgency of halting climate change.

The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, drawn up by a group of academics, Muslim scholars and international environment policy experts, was announced this week at a symposium on Islam and climate change in Istanbul. It calls on the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world to phase out greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil fuels and switch instead to energy from renewable sources. Unlike Catholicism, for example, there is no central religious authority in Islam, but the declaration suggests Muslims have a religious duty to tackle climate change.

Nature explains the intent of the declaration and what it might achieve.

What does the statement say?

In a nutshell, it says that climate change resulting from fossil-fuel burning must urgently be halted, lest ecosystems and human civilization undergo severe disruptions.

“This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine equilibrium (mīzān) may soon be lost,” it reads. “Excessive pollution from fossil fuels threatens to destroy the gifts bestowed on us by God, whom we know as Allah — gifts such as a functioning climate, healthy air to breathe, regular seasons, and living oceans.”

Citing a 2014 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it warns that components of Earth's system are at risk of experiencing abrupt and irreversible change.

The declaration also laments the slow progress of international climate-change negotiations: “It is alarming that in spite of all the warnings and predictions, the successor to the Kyoto Protocol which should have been in place by 2012, has been delayed. It is essential that all countries, especially the more developed nations, increase their efforts and adopt the pro-active approach needed to halt and hopefully eventually reverse the damage being wrought.”

How significant is this?
Indonesia, which is predominantly Muslim, is among the top ten carbon emitters if land-use change and forests are taken into account, according to the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank based in Washington DC. Most of the island nation's footprint comes from deforestation and the draining of carbon-rich peat bogs. India — which is not a Muslim country but has a large Muslim population — is also in the top ten emitters.

Although other Islamic countries, especially major fossil-fuel producers in the Persian Gulf, make small contributions in absolute terms, they have some of the highest per-capita emissions. These come from the intensive use of electric power for energy-intensive applications such as air conditioning and desalination.

Changes in these nations could be important on a global scale, says Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and one of the authors of the declaration. Huq says “I do believe that our appeal will help reduce emissions”.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a Persian-born theologian at the George Washington University in Washington DC who has written on Islam’s teachings on the environment, thinks that the main value of the declaration will be to remind Muslims that “nature is not just a machine; it has a spiritual meaning”. But he’s sceptical that it will affect policies and says he is not sure it is going to change the minds in governments.

Is the Islamic world behind in addressing climate change?
Some oil-rich nations, including Saudi Arabia, have been reluctant in the past to restrict the recovery and use of fossil fuels. Their stance might prove a hurdle to the negotiations surrounding emission cuts in Paris in December.

But some predominately Muslim countries, such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, are also threatened acutely by more-frequent periods of extreme heat and precipitation and by accelerating sea-level rise. Aware of these threats, Bangladesh has installed more than 3.5-million solar home systems in the country's rural areas. And Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates has, in recent years, grown into a hot spot for solar research.

Where do other faiths stand on climate change?
The rallying cry to the Muslim community is not the only intervention by religious leaders in recent times. In June, Pope Francis issued a similar message to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, in the form of a 192-page letter to bishops, known as an encyclical. A day later, faith leaders in the United Kingdom issued an updated version of their Lambeth Declaration on Climate Change — the original was published in 2009.

The three declarations share many ideas, including acknowledgement that climate change currently being seen is human-induced and the call for rich nations to do more to support poorer countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of such change.

“All the faiths are talking about climate change,” says David Shreeve, environmental advisor to the Church of England’s Archbishop’s Council. “It's great that the Muslims are putting out a declaration, because whatever your faith, it’s a great opportunity for the faiths to stand up and say we really are concerned about this.”

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Invasive plants spread fast in billion-dollar threat: study

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 20 Aug 15;

Many of the world's plants are turning "alien", spread by people into new areas where they choke out native vegetation in a worsening trend that causes billions of dollars in damage, scientists said on Wednesday.

The invaders include water hyacinth from the Amazon, which has spread to about 50 nations where it crowds out local plants, while Japanese knotweed has fast-growing roots that have destabilized buildings in North America and Europe.

Citing a new global database, an international team of scientists wrote in the journal Nature that 13,168 plant species - 3.9 percent of the global total - "have become naturalized somewhere on the globe as a result of human activity".

The spread of alien plants was likely to increase with rising trade and travel by emerging nations led by China, it said.

"North America has had most - many came from Europe after Columbus because colonists brought plants with them," lead author Mark van Kleunen of the University of Konstanz in Germany told Reuters.

The global numbers were higher than most earlier estimates of just one or two percent, he said. Plants can be introduced deliberately as crops, for instance, or can get accidentally carried as seeds.

"With continuing globalization and increasing international traffic and trade, it is very likely that more species will be introduced outside their natural ranges and naturalize," the authors wrote.

Scientists have previously estimated that all invasive species - including microbes, animals and plants - cause damage of more than $1.4 trillion a year to the world economy. One 2012 report estimated that water hyacinth cost China alone about $1.1 billion a year.

Piero Genovesi, who chairs a group of invasive species experts at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, welcomed the study as a step to control the spread of new plants.

The European Union was drawing up a "black list" of the worst species in which all trade would be banned from January 2016, he said. Other European rules call for action to eradicate newly identified alien plants within three months.

"I don't think it's possible to stop (the spread of invasive plants) but we can indeed significantly reduce the impacts," he told Reuters.

(Editing by Clelia Oziel)

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