Globalization and economic growth are widely recognized as important drivers of biological invasions. Consequently, there is an increasing need for governments to address the role of international trade in their strategies to prevent species introductions. However, many of the most problematic alien species are not recent arrivals but were introduced several decades ago. Hence, current patterns of alien-species richness may better reflect historical rather than contemporary human activities, a phenomenon which might be called "invasion debt." Here, we show that across 10 taxonomic groups (vascular plants, bryophytes, fungi, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, terrestrial insects, and aquatic invertebrates) in 28 European countries, current numbers of alien species established in the wild are indeed more closely related to indicators of socioeconomic activity from the year 1900 than to those from 2000, although the majority of species introductions occurred during the second half of the 20th century. The strength of the historical signal varies among taxonomic groups, with those possessing good capabilities for dispersal (birds, insects) more strongly associated with recent socioeconomic drivers. Nevertheless, our results suggest a considerable historical legacy for the majority of the taxa analyzed. The consequences of the current high levels of socioeconomic activity on the extent of biological invasions will thus probably not be completely realized until several decades into the future.
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