I just returned from a journey to the stunning neo-Renaissance castle of Průhonice, located just a short bus ride away from the almost as magical city of Prague. But what brought me to such a picturesque location? Well, let me tell you about the meeting we had with the ASICS network.

The castle of Průhonice and its surrounding botanical garden, home to the Institute of Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences. A place full of ecological research of the highest level, and an inspiration to its visitors.

The ASICS network is an international group of scientists dedicated to studying the distribution of non-native species in cold environments. These environments include both high latitudes and mountains which, due to their remoteness, often escape our attention. But why is it so important to study non-native species in these extreme conditions?

Over plates of delicious strudel and other Czech delicacies, we delved into discussions about the progress we were making in understanding non-native species’ invasions in these cold environments. We saw stories of beetles on Crozet Island, of springtails on Marion Island, of non-native plants on Svalbard, each tale more exotic than the rest.

The castle not only hosted our meeting, it’s also the scientific home of our colleagues of the Department of Geoecology, better known as the developers of the TOMST TMS4 microclimate sensor. You won’t be surprised to hear I was delighted to visit them and talk microclimate!

While outside the castle walls, the Czech spring was getting into full spring, we discussed how non-native species were dealing with the extreme weather conditions in these environments. We summarized what we knew, and what we still don’t know.

All around us in the botanical garden, springflowers were emerging. With the sun an agreeable 17°C, it was high tide for botany! Here: Hepatica transsilvanica

Despite the challenges, the conclusions of the meeting were promising: we were gathering more data than ever before on the distribution, behavior, and limitations of these species. However, these cold environments remain full of black boxes, and there are still so many aspects that no scientist has ever looked at. For example, have you ever wondered about the invasion of invertebrates in mountains? Few have, so it seems, and the amount of data is worryingly low. We simply don’t know if there are any non-native invertebrates crawling uphill!

Comma butterfly enjoying the spring sun

The best part is that thanks to ASICS, we now have an ambitious, international, and highly diverse team of dedicated individuals joining forces to answer these questions. We are bringing datasets together, sharing expertise, setting up joint protocols on a global scale. Our hopes are that together, we will not only be able to answer more questions than alone, but that we can also bring the world’s attention to the urgent need for conservation of these remote locations.

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