But the authors of the new study published in Nature Communications on October 4, 2016, say cost figures are “grossly underestimated” because they only cover part of the global costs.
The research was led by Franck Courchamp, the CNRS research director at Laboratoire Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution (Université Paris-Sud/CNRS/AgroParisTech) and including entomologists from IRD Montpellier and a CNRS economist, according to Phys.Org.
The team brought together a massive database that included over 700 scientific studies that included papers, books and journal reports. The researchers amassed a comprehensive and detailed report on the economic damages attributable to invasive insects worldwide.
The resulting study covers damage to goods and services, health care costs and agricultural losses. Because most of the studies researched by the team focused on North America and Europe, it is easy to see why the loss figures are underestimated because many parts of the world do not offer enough economic data to produce accurate estimates.
A rogue’s gallery of the most damaging invasive pests
The Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus) is by far the costliest invasive pest. These termites live in huge colonies and not devour wooden structures, but living trees as well. This pest has taken over large sections of the U.S. and is very difficult to eradicate.
Economic losses from the Formosan termite average $30.2 billion per year globally, while in the U.S., the estimated costs incurred from structural damages by these termites is about 50 percent of the global costs.
Following close behind the Formosan termite is the diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella) that originated in the Mediterranean region. It is a voracious eater of cruciferous crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, and especially cabbage. In the U.S. alone, damages from this insect pest cost about $4.6 billion per year.
There are several other very costly insects, like the brown spruce longhorn beetle (Tetropium fuscum), that costs neighboring Canada about US$4.5 billion per year, and the Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), and the Asian long-horned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis), the later two insects costing an estimated $3.2 billion annually in the U.S. and in Europe.
An overview of healthcare and agricultural losses worldwide
It was clear from the study that the U.S, has borne the brunt of the global costs from invasive insects, followed by Europe. As the research study says, Insects are “probably the costliest animal group to human society.” when it comes to economic losses.
But the biggest chunk of the costs is in healthcare and agricultural losses. And we are not including the costs associated with the impact of malaria, the Zika virus or economic losses in tourism or productivity globally. Dengue fever, a tropical disease spread by mosquitoes is responsible for 84 percent of the over $8.0 billion in healthcare losses worldwide, and that’s a really big bill.
Agricultural losses account for almost 40 percent of the total on economic losses due to invasive insect species by eating our crops. They eat enough crops in one year to feed one billion people.
But with all the costs involved, it is good to know that of the 2.5 million insect species in the world today, only about 2,200 have ended up being invasive, colonizing new territories. More interesting is that only 10 percent of the insects that try to become established in new territories ever do gain a foothold.