While globalization has made it easier for people to move around the globe, flora and fauna are also travelling more these days. Germany is home to some 1,850 foreign residents from the plant and animal world.
Adorable, but annoying -- and not native to Germany
They're settlers of a sort, uprooted from their homes not always by choice, making their way in a new, unfamiliar country.
But they aren't pioneers crossing the Great Plains in covered wagons, or refugees from war-torn or economically ravaged countries looking for a better life. These are raccoons, oysters, crabs, grasses -- plants and animals not native to Germany, which have ended up in the country and whose arrival has some scientists worried.
Researchers at the University of Rostock have found that some 1,500 foreign animal species have come to Germany over the last few centuries along with about 350 plant species. Many fit in quite well to their new homes, but others can be harmful to the local environment, since that can throw the ecosystem out of balance, Sandra Blömacher, a scientist with the Neozoa working group, told ddp news service.
The most prominent of these new furry immigrants is the raccoon, the well-known omnivore from across the Atlantic. Raccoons can be found in large numbers from Canada to Central America. The greyish-brown mammal with the mask-like markings around the eyes has been in Germany for years, brought over to be bred for its fur. But since some broke out of captivity around 1930, the adaptable raccoons have spread all over Germany.
The hunchbacked bandit, while cute from a distance, can be an annoyance to homeowners, who often complain of electrical cables chewed in two, trash cans overturned, or the scampering of little feet in the attic.
Hunters report coming across more and more foreign species in German forests. According to the German Hunting Federation, the number of raccoons shot by hunters rose by 7.6 percent to 21,100. Martens, a relative of the weasel, are also making their presence felt. Hunters reported bagging 15.8 percent more of the animals in 2004 as the year before.
German authorities have encouraged hunters to continue to hunt these animals intensely.
Arrival by sea
One of the primary immigration methods of foreign species is through international shipping. Ballast water, which ships carry for stabilization, often contains a multitude of exotic animals. It is often dumped when a ship reaches its destination.
Stephen Gollasch, a marine biologist from Hamburg, carried out a study in which he found that 69 exotic sea dwellers, from small crabs to fish, arrive at German coastlines every second. That number appears to be rising.
In the meantime, scientists say 80 new species of marine animals have already settled in the North Sea, a fact that can have serious consequences. For example, the Pacific oyster, which continues to spread in North Sea waters, has begun to crowd out the native blue mussel, according to Gollasch.
He is calling for new international regulations that would force ships to change their ballast water on the open sea and not in harbors near the coast.
But Ragnar Kinzelbach, a professor at the University of Rostock, has warned against panicking about these foreign guests. Central Europe has traditionally welcomed many animal and plant species over the centuries and in contrast to some tropical ecosystems, has proved very robust in accommodating the newcomers.
Wild boar, right, and related friend
According to Josef Reichholf of the State Zoological Collection in Munich, the damages that migrant animals and plants cause are fairly minimal compared with the trouble caused by some native species, such as deer or wild boar.