Understanding and intervening in illegal trade in non-native species


The growth and commercialisation of the open source internet has greatly modified the environment in which pet markets and illegal wildlife traders can operate. Given the complex and cryptic nature of these online networks, the development of advanced web intelligence techniques is core to the successful disentanglement of the trade. As online trade platforms and networks grow, so too does the inadvertent risk of new vertebrate introductions and invasions, as a result of intentional or unintentional release.  

The over-arching goal of our project is to extract and tease apart the great deal of relevant online information that is available, using sophisticated techniques and analytical approaches, in order to assist biosecurity agencies and decision-makers to take early preventative action to protect the environment and economic activities (e.g., agricultural and social assets). 




Our project will develop novel approaches for understanding the nature of exotic pet keeping, illegal vertebrate trade in Australia, and alien species incursions.  

The objectives of the project are to develop efficient surveillance and identification tools for:  

  1. compliance of keeping and trade in alien species and early warning of new alien vertebrate incursions; and 
  2. identifying the origins of seized specimens from illegal keeping and at-large incursions

Project Leader

A/Prof. Phill Cassey
Project Team
  • A/Prof Phill Cassey – University of Adelaide 
  • A/Prof Joshua Ross – University of Adelaide
  • Dr Lewis Mitchell – University of Adelaide
  • A/Prof Jeremy Austin – University of Adelaide
  • Dr Jonathan Tyler – University of Adelaide
  • Dr Peter Caley – CSIRO 
  • Dr David Ramsey – Arthur Rylah Institute 
  • Lindell Andrews – PIRSA 
  • Dr Rebecca Johnson  – Australian Museum 
  • Talia Wittmann (technical officer) 
  • Adam Toomes (Phd Student) 
  • Katherine Hill (Honours student) 
  • Dr Oliver Stringham (Postdoc). 
Project Partners
  • University of Adelaide 
  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) 
  • Arthur Rylah Institute (ARI) 
  • Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA)  
  • Australian Museum 

The project receives funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment


February 2020 update: 

This project continues to seek input from the Environment and Invasives Committee (EIC) and State/Territory Government agencies regarding outputs from constructing and publishing web-scraping tools and outputs. A focus on stakeholder engagement will provide avenues for this project to test outputs and tools within the life of this project.

August 2019 update:

To combat the illegal trade of non-native species, this project is designing, testing and implementing automated web-scraping tools to analyse exotic live animal trade websites in Australia, United States and Europe. One finding of this project over 2018-19 is that trade in live vertebrates in the United States is a robust estimator of preference for alien vertebrates in Australia. Consistent with U.S. trade activity, the project has found, on Australian e-commerce sites, evidence for Illegal trade in non-native reptiles and grey-listed ornamental fish.

Bone and scute samples of Red-eared slider turtles have had preliminary isotopic and ablation laser analyses performed with the results being prepared for publication. A pilot study to determine specimen provenance (captive, wild, international) from analyses of stable isotope ratios has been completed and submitted for publication.

February 2019 update: 

This project has collated two decades of chordate interception records from state and commonwealth reporting agencies.  These data have been interrogated for summary statistics and general trends relating to chordate interceptions in Australia over time. The team has identified pathways and commodities associated with high levels of pre-border chordate interceptions and identified new exotic incursion threats to Australia. 

Scientific publications:

  • Duncan, R.P., Cassey, P., Pigot, A.L. et al (2019).A general model for alien species richness. Biol Invasions 212665–2677. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-019-02003-y
  • García‐Díaz, P., Prowse, T. A., Anderson, D. P., Lurgi, M., Binny, R. N., & Cassey, P. (2019). A concise guide to developing and using quantitative models in conservation management. Conservation science and practice1(2), e11. https://doi.org/10.1111/csp2.11
  • Lockwood, J. L., Welbourne, D. J., Romagosa, C. M., Cassey, P., Mandrak, N. E., Strecker, A., … & Tlusty, M. F. (2019). When pets become pests: the role of the exotic pet trade in producing invasive vertebrate animals. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment17(6), 323-330. https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2059
  • Sinclair, J.S., Lockwood, J.L., Hasnain, S. et al (2020). A framework for predicting which non-native individuals and species will enter, survive, and exit human-mediated transport. Biol Invasions22217–231 https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-019-02086-7
  • Toomes A., García‐Díaz P., Wittmann T.A., Virtue J., & Cassey P. (2019) New aliens in Australia: 18 years of vertebrate interceptions. Wildlife Research47, 55-67. https://doi.org/10.1071/WR18185

News articles:

18/03/20 – https://invasives.com.au/news-events/automated-data-collection-e-commerce-marketplaces-facilitate-wildlife-trade/

15/01/20 – https://invasives.com.au/news-events/new-research-highlights-illegal-wildlife-intercepted-australian-borders-wild/


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