EPPO Platform
on PRAs

Weed wide web: characterising illegal online trade of invasive plants in Australia


Maher J, Stringham OC, Moncayo S, Wood L, Lassaline CR, Virtue J, Cassey P (2023) Weed wide web: characterising illegal online trade of invasive plants in Australia. NeoBiota 87, 45–72. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.87.104472

Invasive plants seriously impact our environmental, agricultural and forestry assets, and the ornamental plant trade is a major introduction pathway. The variety and extent of the ornamental plant trade is growing in reach and is increasingly facilitated by the internet (i.e., through e-commerce). A lack of surveillance and regulation of e-commerce has resulted in invasive species being widely traded on these platforms. Here, we investigated the extent of illegal trade in invasive plant species in Australia by collecting advertisements found on a popular public e-commerce website. Across a 12-month period we collected a total of 235,162 plant advertisements. From 10,000 of these advertisements (4.25% of total advertisements) we found 155 plant taxa advertised online that were prohibited to trade in at least one Australian State or Territory (12.5% of Australia’s total prohibited plant taxa). We detected 1,415 instances of invasive plants advertised, of which 411 breached local jurisdictional (i.e., State or Territory) laws. Opuntia cacti and invasive aquatic plants were traded in the greatest quantities. A variety of uses for plants prohibited to trade were reported by the sellers, with aquatic uses being the most popular (i.e., water filtering and habitat for aquatic animals). We used generalised linear mixed-effects models to test the effect of prohibiting the sale of invasive plants on the quantity and price of online advertisements. Despite Australia’s strict internal biosecurity regulations, we found that trade prohibitions had no influence on the quantity and price of trade in illegal invasive plants. Given this, and the extent of illegal invasive plants traded, we believe increased monitoring and regulation of online plant trade is warranted. We demonstrate that targeted searches using string matching is an effective tool for detecting e-commerce trade of invasive species. However, to obtain the most optimal outcomes, regulations should be coupled with increased cooperation from e-commerce platforms and public awareness campaigns. Future weed risk assessments should consider online trade as a key factor in the long-distance dispersal and propagule pressure of a plant. Jurisdictions would also benefit from greater alignment on plant trade prohibitions and revision of associated compliance policies.


  • Hydrocharis laevigata
  • Opuntia
  • Opuntia ficus-indica
  • Opuntia microdasys
  • Opuntia monacantha
  • Pontederia crassipes
  • Zantedeschia aethiopica


Type File Size
Other Link to file
Pest Risk Analysis Download 2,52MB

PRA Area

  • Australia