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Invasive species: friend or foe?

Globalisation means that the world has grown small for both us humans and other creatures. New animal and plant species are constantly migrating to Switzerland or are introduced from other continents via a variety of routes.

Animals and plants are considered invasive if they cause economic damage, impair the health of humans, livestock or plants, or spread at the expense of native species. According to the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), there are a total of 107 invasive species in Switzerland, including the Asian longhorned beetle, common ragweed, the box tree moth, the signal crayfish or the Canada goldenrod.

Threat to biodiversity


Himalayan Balsam is an invasive plant.

According to the literature, invasive species such as Himalayan Balsam are now one of the biggest threats to global biodiversity. This is why Switzerland has concluded the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Plant Protection Convention and has thus pledged to prevent the introduction of invasive species or to eliminate or contain them as much as possible should they nevertheless spread to Switzerland.

Improved protection thanks to the plant protection lab

WSL’s new plant protection lab.

WSL is helping to prevent the spread of invasive species in Switzerland. FOEN has charged the Institute with periodically checking at-risk areas such as airports, large sawmills or bark stores for so-called quarantine pests. The new plant protection lab makes this task much easier and allows researchers to analyse pests under strict safety conditions and to investigate their biology. This means that they can better estimate a pest’s potential for damage and develop suitable countermeasures, such as finding a biological control agent like in the case of the Chestnut blight in northern Switzerland (link available in German only).

Identify pest infestations as early as possible by means of a monitoring system

Asiatischer Laubholzbockkäfer
The Asian longhorned beetle is one of the world’s most dangerous broadleaf tree pests.

Swiss Forest Protection is also making a valuable contribution to WSL’s monitoring activities. For the past 30 years, the research centre has operated a monitoring system for native and non-native forest pests, such as the Asian longhorned beetle (link available in German or French). The centre’s legal mandate also means that it provides free advice on forest protection to forest owners and officials, helps to identify suspicious findings or organisms and regularly organises training courses. In addition, WSL sits on various committees dealing with invasive species, such as the Swiss Expert Committee for Biosafety (SECB) and the Info Flora committee, which is currently drafting a ‘black list’ of invasive plants.