Iceland is a geographically remote location. Exotic plant species are constantly being introduced to Iceland, despite its distance from other countries. Many species are imported deliberately, either for use in commercial agriculture, horticulture, and sylviculture or for use as ornamental garden plants. Other species have been brought inadvertently to Iceland, with travellers or imported goods.
Most of these exotic species have little to no effect in their new surroundings. Invasive species are in the minority. These species cause changes to ecosystems and threaten biodiversity. They can also cause serious environmental, economic, or health-related damage. Invasive species that have become established in Iceland are gradually claiming more and more terrain, making them an ever-increasing worry for both authorities and the general public.
Two vascular plant species and one moss species have been designated as invasive in Iceland. The Nootka lupin (Lupinus nootkatensis) was imported in connection with land reclamation and cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) was brought to Iceland as a garden plant. Both species have proliferated in Iceland and currently have a wide distribution. The heath star moss (Campylopus introflexus) has been accidentally introduced to Iceland through human activity, for example on travellers’ shoe-bottoms, and has established itself at geothermal sites.
Act No. 583/2000 on the import, cultivation and distribution of alien plant species forbids the import of the following plant species:
- Azolla filiculoides,
- Bunias orientalis,
- Elodea canadensis,
- Fallopia japonica,
- Fallopia sachalinensis,
- Galinsoga quadriradiata,
- Heracleum persicum,
- Heracleum mantegazzianum,
- Heracleum spp.,
- Impatiens parviflora,
- Petasites hybridus,
- Senecio inaequidens,
- Solidago canadensis,
- Solidago gigantea, and
- Spartina anglica.
It is likewise prohibited to cultivate non-native species in protected areas and habitats enjoying special protection, and at all locations over 400 metres above sea level.
Various other species have been brought to Iceland that have proved extremely invasive and difficult to manage in other countries. Species of the genus Heracleum are of particular note. These tall, umbelliferous plants are frequently phytotoxic, making them dangerous to human health. These species have been introduced in many places as an ornamental garden plant, but they are spreading increasingly into the wild.
Research findings indicate that climate change may have a major impact on the distribution of introduced plants in Iceland. Species classified as invasive are likely to colonise new areas as the climate warms. Areas with a climate suitable for the growth of Nootka lupin in Iceland are forecasted to grow rapidly to 2050, which may contribute to the species potentially colonising a large area of the central highlands. Areas with suitable conditions for cow parsley are likewise forecasted to grow significantly, albeit to a somewhat lesser extent. As a result, cow parsley will spread to new areas where it is currently unable to grow. For a more detailed discussion, see Pawel Wasowicz et al.: Alien vascular plants in Iceland: Diversity, spatial patterns, temporal trends, and the impact of climate change.
The North European and Baltic Network on Invasive Alien Species (NOBANIS) was created in order to minimise or prevent the damage caused by invasive species. The Icelandic Institute of Natural History participates on behalf of Iceland. The main goal of NOBANIS is to act as a regional portal for sharing information on exotic and invasive species in North and Central Europe and to make this data available online. The resources accessible through the portal include information on the number of invasive or potentially invasive species in Iceland. In compiling information for this project, numerous experts at the IINH and elsewhere have provided their assistance.