August 5, 2011 Leave a comment
Recent articles in Science, the NY Times and Nature have suggested that we should embrace invasive species and the resultant “novel ecosystems” and that those that do battle with such species are verging on xenophobic. This is a common cycle in many fields and I’m told that a discussion thread is considered closed once a poster has been described as xeonophobic or worse, if so this discussion could be over before it even begins. Nevertheless, a group of scientists and practitioners wrote a response which can be found on the ISSG website. The issues are certainly complex. It is true that preserving pristine ecosystems is a lost goal and there are probably none in existence anymore, but to do nothing and indeed to try to argue that the new system is one worth accepting suggests that the authors have either given up in the face of too difficult a task, or have seen an opportunity to publish something controversial. There are certainly “profits” of doom to be had on both sides. In order to get your invasive management project funded it is necessary to take the public with you and when engaging with the media evocative negative language can appear in print. On the other side it is easier to stand out from fellow authors if you challenge an accepted paradigm. In the case of weeds, it is generally understood that monocultures of the new plant are less biodiverse but more productive than the flora they replace and depending on your priorities their arrival could be a good or a bad thing. If we accept that biodiversity is a priority there are few arguments to be had for introducing new invasive exotic species except for biocontrol where the excellent paper by Van Driesche and many co-authors shows the potential benefits. It is this tool that was notably overlooked in the discussions despite choosing the Galapagos as a case study where there are excellent targets for weed biocontrol yet no funding has materialised despite the vast sums spent on vertebrate eradications.