Most invasive forest pests are not directly harmful to humans, with a few exceptions. The sap of giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), an invasive forest plant, can cause serious burns to the skin and should be avoided. Also, if threatened, the Asian longhorned beetle can deliver a painful bite.
The sap of the giant hogweed can cause serious burns to the skin. Giant hogweed is an invasive plant from southwest Asia, first introduced into North America as a garden ornamental.
Photo: Terry English, USDA APHIS PPQ, bugwood.org
Many indirect impacts on human health are also possible, both mental and physical. Invasive species introductions are commonly regarded as the second greatest threat to global biodiversity, next to habitat loss (Wilcove et al., 1998). Through the loss of biodiversity and green-spaces, recent evidence suggests that invasive species infestations could result in negative impacts on human health. As outlined in Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy, a healthy, diverse ecosystem holds many health benefits for humans (Ontario Biodiversity Council, 2011). Forests and wetlands are essential for purifying the air we breathe and the water we drink, regulating micro-climates in urban areas where we live, and breaking down waste.
Recent research has uncovered some of the most interesting information to draw a direct link between invasive species introductions and human health. Donovan et al. (2013) examined the relationship between trees and human health by comparing mortality in areas that had been ravaged by the emerald ash borer to unaffected areas. Results suggest that the widespread environmental changes caused by the emerald ash borer introduction lead to an increase in human mortality in EAB infested areas. The increase in mortality observed in this study was related to cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illnesses.
Healthy forests enrich our lives on a daily basis, encouraging people to experience the outdoors through healthy activities such as hiking, biking, or simply enjoying a day at the park. Nature can be appreciated spiritually, culturally, or aesthetically, and the social benefits are almost impossible to measure. Invasive species pose a serious threat to these natural areas and have associated threats to human health. For tips on how to prevent the establishment and spread of invasive species, click here.