Taming the terminological tempest in invasion science

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Ismael Soto Almena, Paride Balzani, Lais Carneiro, Ross N. Cuthbert, Rafael Macedo, Ali Serhan Tarkan, Danish A. Ahmed, Alok Bang, Karolina Bacela-Spychalska, Sarah A. Bailey, Thomas Baudry, Liliana Ballesteros, Alejandro Bortolus, Elizabeta Briski, J. Robert Britton, Milos Buric, Morelia Camacho-Cervantes, Carlos Cano-Barbacil, Denis Copilaș-Ciocianu, Neil Coughlan, Pierre Courtois, Zoltan Csabai, Tatenda Dalu, Vanessa De santis, James W.E. Dickey, Romina Dimarco, Jannike Falk-Andersson, Romina Fernandez, Margarita Florencio, Ana Clara S. Franco, Emili Garcia-Berthou, Daniela Giannetto, Milka Glavendekic, Michal Grabowski, Gustavo Heringer, Ileana Herrera, Huang Wei, Katie L. Kamelamela, Natalia I. Kirichenko, Antonin Kouba, Melina Kourantidou, Irmak Kurtul, Gabriel Laufer, Boris Lipták, Chulong Liu, Eugenia Lopez-López, Vanessa Lozano, Stefano Mammola , Agnese Marchini, Valentyna Meshkova, Laura Meyerson, Marco Milardi, Dimitrii L. Musolin, Martin Nuñez, Francisco J. Oficialdegui, Jiri Patoka, Zarah Pattision, Adam Petrusek, Daniela Pincheira-Donoso, Maria Piria, Anna Probert, Jes Jessen Rasmussen, David Renault, Filipe Ribeiro, Gil Rilov, Tamara B. Robinson, Axel Sanchez, Evangelina Schwindt, Josie South, Peter Stoett, Hugo Verreycken, Lorenzo Vilizzi, Yong-Jian Wang, Yuya Watari, Priscilla M Wehi, Andras Weiperth, Peter Wiberg-Larsen, Sercan yapici, Baran Yoğurtçuoğlu, Rafael Zenni, Bella S. Galil, Jaimie T.A. Dick, James Russell, Anthony Ricciardi, Daniel Simberloff, Corey J.A. Bradshaw, Phillip J. Haubrock


Standardized terminology in science is important for clarity of interpretation and communication. In invasion science — a dynamic and quickly evolving discipline — the rapid proliferation of technical terminology has lacked a standardized framework for its language development. The result is a convoluted and inconsistent usage of terminology, with various discrepancies in descriptions of damages and interventions. A standardized framework is therefore needed for a clear, universally applicable, and consistent terminology to promote more effective communication across researchers, stakeholders, and policymakers. Inconsistencies in terminology stem from the exponential increase in scientific publications on the patterns and processes of biological invasions authored by experts from various disciplines and countries since the 1990s, as well as publications by legislators and policymakers focusing on practical applications, regulations, and management of resources. Aligning and standardizing terminology across stakeholders remains a prevailing challenge in invasion science. Here, we review and evaluate the multiple terms used in invasion science (e.g. 'non-native', 'alien', 'invasive' or 'invader', 'exotic', 'non-indigenous', 'naturalized, 'pest') to propose a more simplified and standardized terminology. The streamlined framework we propose and translate into 28 other languages is based on the terms (i) 'non-native', denoting species transported beyond their natural biogeographic range, (ii) 'established non-native', i.e. those non-native species that have established self-sustaining populations in their new location(s) in the wild, and (iii) 'invasive non-native' — populations of established non-native species that have recently spread or are spreading rapidly in their invaded range actively or passively with or without human mediation. We also highlight the importance of conceptualizing 'spread' for classifying invasiveness and 'impact' for management. Finally, we propose a protocol for classifying populations based on (1) dispersal mechanism, (2) species origin, (3) population status, and (4) impact. Collectively and without introducing new terminology, the framework that we present aims to facilitate effective communication and collaboration in invasion science and management of non-native species.




Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


biological invasion, classification, communication, non-English language, non-native, polysemy, synonymy, Classification, Communication, non-English language, non-native, polysemy, synonymy


Published: 2023-09-06 14:23


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Conflict of interest statement:

Data and Code Availability Statement:
Data and code can be found at: https://github.com/IsmaSA/Invasion-science-terminology

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Comment #130 Oliver Pescott @ 2023-11-11 14:10

This paper seems like an admirable effort to bring clarity to the use of terms like "invasion" and "invasive" in invasion science, but it seems to stop too short with regards to the part that human values play in their stage 4 "Impact" category. The authors certainly acknowledge that values play some part in this stage (e.g. L637-638: "A knowledge gap arises from biassed impact research targeting specific taxa, regions, or values, further complicated by context-dependent and time-lagged effects"; L1133-1135: "Even if value-laden, the concern of those 'invasive' (spreading) species with impacts (cf. those with few impacts) is based on human values and thus, relevant for the distribution of limited management resources."'; L1141: "perceived impact").

To be fully transparent to the public, policy makers, and others, the classification of any given "impact" into "harmful" or "benign" surely requires some information about the group of humans making this decision. It is possible that some such classifications may be subject to no dispute about the human value consensus (e.g. a plant that produces a airborne allergen may be universally considered harmful to health, i.e. I.a.iv in this scheme), but impacts that are considered harmful in other categories are liable to be far more labile, and subject to disagreement depending on those consulted. Those in the cultural and economic categories seem most likely to elicit different responses across humans consulted in any given area, but even ecological impact may be subject to disagreement. This last category (harmful ecological impact) also throws up another issue with this scheme, which is that it elides actual biological effects with human value-based responses to these.

For example, a non-native plant spreading in an area may have unambiguously negative effects on the abundance of a native species. This may be a biological fact (perhaps subject to things like measurement error, choice of sampling, statistical model etc.), but ultimately something that has happened in reality and has some common elements that can be agreed upon by scientists. However, classifying this as "harmful impact" in this scheme immediately implies that a consensual value-based conclusion has been arrived at directly from the biological fact. If this scheme is to be used to inform policy makers, direct public funding etc., then why should this be the case? Should not the biological fact of impact be passed through some societal filter before it is labelled as a "harm" that society should invest in countering? After all, any tax money that is spent on remediating a biological invasion is tax money not spent on something else. What if the local community has other concerns?

As the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume pointed out, "you cannot get an ought from an is"; that is to say, a scientific fact or description does not directly translate into a normative stance. That requires some framework of values, and this should be transparently acknowledged. I can see no way that this framework currently achieves that.