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CEE Evidence Syntheses

Evidence for changes in the occurrence, frequency or severity of human health impacts resulting from exposure to alien species in Europe: a systematic map

Abstract

Background

Alien species are frequently considered a serious environmental threat but negative impacts on human health through injury, allergy, or as vectors of disease sometimes have the most dire consequences for human livelihoods. Climate change and the increasing magnitude and frequency of introductions of species across geographic barriers as a result of international trade are likely to change their establishment, spread, abundance, physiology or phenology, potentially also altering their human health impacts. Yet despite receiving increasing attention in the scientific literature, there have been few attempts to quantify recent changes in human health impacts. Here we report the findings from a systematic map of the literature identifying evidence of any change in the occurrence, frequency or severity of impacts of alien species on human health in Europe over the last 25 years.

Methods

We conducted a systematic search of the ecological and medical literature using English language search terms to identify potentially relevant studies. Search results were assessed against inclusion criteria published in an a priori protocol at title, abstract and full-text to determine their suitability for inclusion in the review. Repeatability was checked at each stage by comparing a subset between reviewers and testing for inter-rater agreement using Cohen’s kappa test. Studies deemed relevant at full text were coded against bibliographic, inclusion and study design criteria to create a searchable database of evidence.

Results

Searches retrieved over 15,700 results yet only sixteen cases met criteria for inclusion in the systematic map. Most of this evidence represents first records of impacts from different areas, and in particular first reports of transmission of exotic diseases by introduced mosquito species.

Conclusions

There is currently limited published evidence demonstrating a change in the occurrence, frequency or severity of human health impacts caused by alien species in Europe over the last 25 years. Relevant studies relate to only a few species, often report specific cases and rarely link health impacts with ecology, distribution or spread of the species. Difficulties in attributing human health impacts, such as stings or allergies, to a specific alien species likely complicate attempts to measure changes, as may differences in professional interests between the environmental and health professions. Future studies could helpfully compare spread or abundance with reported, rather than potential, health impacts. Better cooperation between invasion ecologists and health professionals working in affected areas are likely to be necessary to improve the evidence base on this topic for the future.

Keywords

Allergens – Biological invasions – Bites – Dermatitis – Disease – Public health – Stings

Who's in the review team?

Helen R. Bayliss
Stefan Schindler
Mildren Adam
Franz Essl
Wolfgang Rabitsch

At what stage is the review?

Completed

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