Lasting Legacy

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Colonialism didn’t just have an impact on communities and regions but also affected the flora and fauna of colonized territories, according to a new study.

Scientists recently found that the expansion of the European empires from the 15th century onwards resulted in the spread of many plant species around the world, New Scientist reported.

Lead author Bernd Lenzner and his team analyzed a global database of alien plant species to measure the lasting legacy colonialism left on global plant diversity. They studied the similarity of non-native species in more than 1,100 regions of the former British, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish empires.

The best predictors of countries sharing the same sorts of non-native plants were closeness, common temperature and aridity, as climates govern where alien species may survive.

However, researchers noticed that the period spent as a colony in territories colonized by the same empire was as strong a predictor that they would share the same non-native species as modern social and economic factors were.

This was noticeable in regions of particular importance to the empire: The team discovered that these areas – such as major trading posts – were more likely to share plant species with other regions in the same empire.

What drove this spread was mainly the export of agricultural products and the trade of exotic plants.

Lenzner said the findings underscore the long-term impact the introduction of a foreign plant or animal species – intentionally or accidentally – can have.

“We really need to think today about which species we are transporting across the world because we will see the consequences of that very far into the future, in the decades and centuries to come,” he said.

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