Biological exchanges and invasions are important themes in history. Over the course of the Earth’s history there have been many biological invasions. Think for example of the species that took advantage of land bridges during ice ages, when sea levels were lower, to expand into new areas where they did not live before. These processes were relatively slow and only the most mobile species were able to migrate over long distances, most species stayed home. Geographic barriers, such as oceans and mountain chains, inhibited migrations of most species and divided the earth into distinct biogeographical provinces. But with the advent of long distance navigation in the 15th century people started to transport species from one continent to another on a scale and with a speed that the world had never experienced before.

This process of the exchange of biota is now familiar to many historians, as the Columbian Exchange, thanks to the work of Alfred Crosby. Crosby used the term to describe the exchange of agricultural goods between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres that has occurred since 1492.
To America, Europeans introduced crops like wheat, rice, bananas, sugar, and grapes. Europeans also brought a number of domesticated animals to the New World, including horses, cattle, pigs and sheep. The Eurasian species thrived in the America’s because their animals and plans encountered less competitions or it was even absent, altering eco-systems forever but also aiding the success of Europeans in the New World, a phenomenon dubbed “ecological imperialism” by Crosby.

However, the exchange process was not a one-way street. Africa and Eurasia acquired some very useful crops from the Americas, most notably potatoes and maize. The new food crops fuelled population growth in Europe, Africa and China.

At present the biological exchange between different parts of the world continues due to fast air transport and large-scale shipping. For this reason it is important to understand the dynamics and processes of past biological exchanges. Below is a short bibliography of biological exchanges and invasions in history, which is far from complete and intended as a starting point for people interested in the subject.

Beinart, William, Costs and Benefits of Plant Transfers and Bio-invasions in Historical Perspective with particular reference to Africa, unpublished paper presented at ISEE 2008 in

Burney, D., “Historical Perspectives on Human-Assisted Biological Invasions”, Evolutionary Anthropology, 4 (1996), 216-221.

Crosby, Alfred W., Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986)

Crosby, Alfred W., “Columbian exchange: plants, animals, and disease between the Old and New World”,National Humanities Center,

Crosby, Alfred W., The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Co., 1972)

Di Castri, Francesco, “History of Biological Invasions with Special Emphasis on the Old World”, in: J.A. Drake et al., Biological Invasions: a Global Perspective (Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, 1989),

Elton, C.S., The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 [Reprint of 1958 book]).

Groves, R. H., & Burdon, J. J., Ecology of biological invasions (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986)

Hall, Marcus, “Editorial: The Native, Naturalized and Exotic–plants and animals in human history”,Landscape Research, 28, no. 1 (2003), 5-9.

Hughes, J. Donald, “Europe as Consumer of Exotic Biodiversity: Greek and Roman times”, Landscape Research, 28, no. 1 (2003), 21-31.

Leonie Joubert, Invaded: The Biological Invasion of South Africa (Witwatersrand: Witwatersrand University Press, 2009).

Lodge, D. M., “Biological invasions: lessons for ecology”, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 8 (1993), 133-136.

McNeill, John R., “Europe’s Place in the Global History of Biological Exchange”, Landscape Research, 28, no. 1 (2003), 33-39.

Middleton, Karen,
 “The Ironies of Plant Transfer The Case of Prickly Pear in Madagascar”, in: William Beinart and Joann Mcgregor (eds.), Social History & African Environment (Athens OH: Ohio University Press, 2003)

Pimentel, David, ed., Biological Invasions: Economic and Environmental Costs of Alien Plant, Animal, and Microbe Species (Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2002).

Sittert, Lance Van, “Making the Cape Floral Kingdom: the discovery and defence of indigenous flora at the Cape ca. 1890-1939”, Landscape Research, 28, no. 1 (2003), 113-129.

Sittert, Lance van, “Our irrepressible fellow-colonist’: the biological invasion of prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) in the Eastern Cape c.1890–c.1910”, Journal of Historical Geography, Volume 28, Issue 3, July 2002, Pages 397-419

Smout, T. C., “The Alien Species in 20th-century Britain: constructing a new vermin”, Landscape Research, 28, no. 1 (2003), 11-20.