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Combatting Biological Invasions on Biodiversity and Ecosystems: Insights from the 2024 Ronald Ross Lecture Featured


 Prof. Helen Roy MBE Hon. FRES discussed the impact, challenges and solutions for biological invasions and biodiversity preservation. CyI researchers also showcased the VEClim Platform, an early warning decision support system for climate-sensitive vector-borne diseases.

On Thursday, February 15, 2024, The Cyprus Institute organized the 2024 Ronald Ross Lecture, entitled “Biological Invasions: Insights from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Assessment on Invasive Alien Species and Their Control”. Speaker was the distinguished scientist, Prof. Helen Roy MBE Hon. FRES, Professor at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the University of Exeter, who delivered the public lecture at CyI premises in Athalassa.

The event is part of the Ronald Ross Lecture Series, a joint initiative between The Cyprus Institute and the British High Commission in Nicosia, aiming to bring eminent British scientists, leaders in their field, to Cyprus. Named after Sir Ronald Ross, the British scientist awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1902, the Lecture was attended by members of the academic, political, and diplomatic community including members of the CyI Board of Trustees. Among the attendees was Mr. Ben Rawlings, British Deputy High Commissioner to Cyprus.

Prof. Helen Roy focused on the alarming message from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment, highlighting the rapid decline of biodiversity. “Invasive alien species, alongside climate change and alterations in land and sea use, were identified as major contributors to direct biodiversity change. Their threats extend to biodiversity, ecosystems, human health, and economies. Notably, the global influx of alien species into new regions is increasing and shows no sign of slowing down”, Prof. Roy stated.

Emphasizing the effectiveness of preventing the arrival of invasive alien species, Prof. Roy discussed the growing emphasis on horizon scanning. This proactive approach involves predicting which invasive alien species might pose an imminent emerging threat. “Prioritizing these species within potential arrival pathways provides valuable insights for decision-making. Horizon scanning efforts across Europe have influenced the prioritization of invasive alien species for risk assessments and inclusion in lists of concern”, she noted. Prof. Roy also talked about the diverse impacts of invasive alien species on plant, animal, human, and wildlife health.

In conclusion, Prof. Helen Roy shared insights into invasion ecology, spanning broad patterns and processes to approaches in surveillance and monitoring, including citizen science. She highlighted the importance of fostering collaborative, interdisciplinary partnerships, citing the upcoming IPBES global thematic assessment on invasive alien species. Such networks formed through these initiatives offer advantages for individuals, scientific endeavors, and the natural world. “Ambitious progress in biological invasion management can be achieved with integrated governance. There is compelling evidence for immense and sustained action. With sufficient resources and long-term commitment, preventing and controlling invasive alien species are attainable goals that will yield significant long-term benefits for people and nature”, she concluded.

During the event, researchers from the Climate and Atmosphere Research Center (CARE-C) at The Cyprus Institute, Dr Kamil Erguler and Dr Ahmet Arca, presented "VEClim". This early warning decision support system for climate-sensitive vector-borne diseases (VBDs) aims to improve prediction and management. Utilizing data-driven, mechanistic, and climate-sensitive geographical modeling, the platform displays vector presence, seasonal activity profiles, and risk maps.

Future plans include an extensive database of meteorological variables, climate projections, environmental covariates, and an up-to-date longitudinal vector surveillance dataset. Customized simulations under different climate scenarios and vector control activities will be possible. The project receives support from the Wellcome Trust as part of Digital Technology Development Awards in Climate-Sensitive Infectious Disease Modeling, marking the foundation's first direct award to a Cypriot institution.

The full VEClim presentation and public lecture is accessible here.


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