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$390 billion: Red Fire Ants, feral cats rip up Aussie economy

·2-min read
A macro shot of a red ant in nature, a stray cat and Australian $100 bills.
Invasive species are costing the Aussie economy billions of dollars and the experts say the price is set to rise (Source: Getty)

Feral cats, rabbits and weeds are some of the most costly invasive species in Australia – and it’s Aussie farmers who are suffering.

The agriculture sector has forked out close to $60 billion in the last 60 years, according to new research from the Australian Research Council and Flinders University.

Whether deliberately or accidentally introduced, invasive species have racked up a $390 billion bill to the Aussie economy.

And unless there are better investments, reporting and coordinated efforts that number is likely to rise, the research said.

While feral cats are the single-most costly individual species, it's actually plants and weeds that have proved to be the worst of all, accounting for $204 billion.

Invasive mammals were the second biggest offenders, accounting for $65 billion, and insects costing $15.5 billion.

Cats, European rabbits and red imported fire ants are the three costliest species.

How Australia is coping

New South Wales has been copping it the hardest, followed by Western Australia and Victoria.

“This is the most detailed analysis to date,” lead researcher Professor Corey Bradshaw, Matthew Flinders Professor of Global Ecology at Flinders University said.

“Australia has a long history of invasive species, and their impact is far-reaching, not only for our native animals and the environment but across our agricultural and health sectors as well.”

Co-author Dr Andrew Hoskins from the CSIRO, said it was important to understand the full breadth of the problem, to help prioritise future research and inform policy decisions.

“We captured species not previously detailed in any other nation-wide study of the economic burden of invasives, providing us with the most up-to-date picture of the cost of such species to our country,” he said.

“This research shows that invasive species are causing serious and growing harm to our ecological, agricultural, and economic systems.”

The researchers say as the world becomes more interconnected, invasive species will only continue to increase their range and impacts across the planet.

“As our analysis shows, the large and ever-increasing costs of invasive species to Australia’s economy are substantial and also likely to be underestimated,” Bradshaw said.

“We can reasonably assume that without better investment and coordinated interventions, including animal culls, Australia will continue to lose billions of dollars on invasive species over the coming decades.”

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