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The Global Invasive Species Programme - GISP

The Global Invasive Species Programme


22 January 2004 Cape Town, South Africa



Another step on the long road to dealing with the threat of invasive alien species (IAS) was taken today with the launch of the international GISP Secretariat. Coinciding with the Southern Connections conference held at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, in Cape Town, the launch of the Secretariat also marks the start of a new phase for GISP when the organisation, in partnership with GISP’s many international partner organisations, becomes the international clearing house and authority on IAS throughout the world. Based on GISP’s partnership and networking role, the new Secretariat will act, essentially, as the international information hub for GISP’s Phase II roll-out by providing a networking and enabling facility for various national, regional and international IAS-focused programmes and organisations.

Guest speaker at the launch, Dr Kathy MacKinnon, Lead Biodiversity Specialist in the Environment Department of the World Bank, drove home the message about how critical IAS issues have become. For example, one third of Africa’s grain is destroyed by invasive rats while the water hyacinth is the continent’s most costly and damaging aquatic weed, known to cause the collapse of entire aquatic systems in many African countries … all this on a continent that can least afford to lose food and water.

What is GISP?
The Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP) was established in 1997 to address global threats caused by IAS and play a leading role towards the implementation of Article 8(h) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The GISP mission is to conserve biodiversity and sustain human livelihoods by minimising the spread and impact of invasive alien species (see notes for more information).

IAS are those species that become established in a new environment, then proliferate and spread in ways that are destructive to human interests and native biodiversity. IAS are now considered to be one of, if not indeed the greatest threats to the ecological and economic well-being of the planet.

The GISP Secretariat aims to draw upon a global partnership network of organisations, programmes and experts with an interest in IAS issues. The Secretariat will also build on the work achieved and international projects launched during GISP Phase 1. The many innovative and important projects and publications already developed, including the international Toolkit for Invasive Species and a Global Strategy on IAS will be widely promoted.

To mark the Secretariat’s launch, GISP has produced a book on the growing danger of IAS in Africa. Entitled ‘Africa Invaded’, the publication aims to raise awareness in Africa and beyond about some of the most prominent IAS issues facing the continent. Copies are available from the GISP offices.

Today also sees the announcement of the new Chairperson of the GISP Board, Dr Mark Lonsdale. Internationally recognised as a leading authority on biocontrol aspects relating to IAS, he is an entomologist by training and a science manager with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (SCIRO) of Australia. Just four people run the GISP Secretariat, reporting to the GISP Board, which is comprised of around 12 international recognised experts and leaders in the IAS field, all of whom share a commitment to tackling issues related to IAS, and most representing leading international environmental bodies. .

Why Cape Town?
Initial core funding for the establishment and running of the GISP Secretariat was granted by the World Bank on condition that it would be established in a developing country. By invitation from the National Botanical Institute (NBI) of South Africa, the GISP Board agreed to establish the Secretariat at the NBI offices in Cape Town, where the NBI also currently provides GISP with administrative support.
For further information, photographs from the launch and/or a copy of Dr MacKinnon’s presentation, please contact:
Kobie Brand, GISP Secretariat: +27 21 799 8839 / + (0) 83 406 7665
Karey Evett, Wired Communications: +27 21 439 4975 / + (0) 82 789 8932
Notes to editors
1. GISP seeks to:

- improve the scientific basis for decision-making on invasive species
- develop capacities to employ early warning and rapid assessment and response systems
- enhance the ability to manage invasive species
- reduce the economic impacts of invasive species and control methods
- develop better risk assessment methods and
- strengthen international agreements
- develop public education about invasive species
- improve understanding of the ecology of invasive species
- examine legal and institutional frameworks for controlling invasive species
- develop new codes of conduct for the movement of species and
- design new tools for quantifying the impact of invasive species.

2. The Fourth Southern Connections Meeting is being held at UCT from 19-23 January 2004, which brings together an influential group of scientists from 22 countries on the southern continents. The organisers are Profs Jeremy Midgley and William Bond from UCT, Prof Steve Chown from Stellenbosch, Dr Richard Knight from UWC and Ingrid Nanni from NBI, Kirstenbosch. The inaugural meeting was held in Hobart, Australia, with subsequent meetings in Valdivia, Chile and Christchurch, New Zealand. The size of the meeting has grown to include around 150 verbal deliveries over four days and around 50 poster presentations.

Southern Connection is a group of scientists working on the southern
continents. Delegates include many different kinds of biologists and
earth scientists from 22 countries. Much of the scientific basis for biology and earth science comes from the northern hemisphere, which differs considerably to that in the southern hemisphere. For example, in South Africa there was no recent glaciation such as that which occurred in Europe and North America and where much was obliterated. Large animals are very important ecologically and there are very diverse systems outside of the tropics – such as fynbos. Northern hemisphere centric textbooks dominate the market and the minds of many journal editors in spite of their often being inappropriate for the southern hemisphere. The theme of the 2004 conference is ‘Towards a Southern Perspective’ and an optimistic goal is that a book of this title could be published in a few years time. There are many sub-themes to this conference with numerous distinguished speakers attending. Some of the plenary speakers will draw comparisons between north and south hemispheres – such as by Prof. Ian Woodward and Prof Kevin Gaston from Sheffield University, Prof Peter Cranston from University of California and Prof Steve Chown from Stellenbosch University. Topics range from life on land and in the sea and air to present day comparisons with that in the long distant past and include the range from small (eg small mammals and genes) to the large (eg megaherbivores).

Two big symposia concern the devastating negative impact of alien plants and the use of genetics, especially DNA analyses of closely related plants or animals, in understanding biogeographic patterns - known as phylogeography. Smaller symposia concern fire, forest dynamics, marine ecology, phylogenies, conservation ecology, insect and bird ecology as well as urban ecology. Conferences like these are important for many reasons. They raise the profile of applied and theoretical issues from the south, they expose local students and scientists to great scientists and they promote South Africa – and in particular the Cape – as a biological paradise.


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