Have been reading a lot the arguments against so-called “invasion biology” on a site called MillionTrees.me. Invasion biology or invasion ecology is the supposedly conservation theory that says plants which are native to a given area are “better” than plants that are introduced, or worst of all those that exhibit “invasive” characteristics. This is then applied as justification for all manner of restoration ecology projects which may apply mass-scale pesticides in an effort to “wipe out” the invaders.
I won’t go into all the elements against this largely prevailing mindset just yet. But there are a few things I wanted to tee off as themes as we go forward.
One, is that the nativist language used against “invasives” is uncomfortably reminiscent for me of a certain far-right conspiracy theory called the Great Replacement, which alleges that elites are bent on ruining white majority countries by allowing or encouraging mass migration (“invasions”) of non-white peoples into them from elsewhere. Interestingly, this theory and its many permutations are nothing new, and in a previous era (around 1900), it was called Race Suicide, and in the United States the “natives” where white Protestants, and the “invasives” where Catholics from what were considered less desirable European countries. (Who will be the bad guy in 20 years, 100?)
Of course, white Europeans were not actually “native” to North America. There were and are indigenous North Americans who have thousands of years of prior claims to that title, making all Europeans the invasive ones from that perspective. But even they came to this continent from other places thousands of years prior to that. Were they then the introduced ones?
This leads directly to the next theme: that in the plant world likewise (and the multi-species ecologies they support), the decision about what is “native” in a given locale may end up being a somewhat arbitrary one, depending on what part of the geological record one is referring back to. Is a “native” plant referring to something growing “on it own” only prior to European settlement? Or is it outside of all human intervention?
There are two sub-issues implied in the conventional dichotomy offered above. One is the implicit suggestion that white European settlers were not “acting naturally” (i.e., could not be acting as agents of nature for reason x). Whereas, indigenous communities are conversely seen as acting in accord with nature because reasons. If its true that Europeans were somehow acting apart from nature, how and when did that happen? Sounds a bit like a myth of falling from grace or loss of innocence, or original sin, tied up with romantic Rousseau-ish myths around the noble savage…
I don’t have a complete thought there, but I’ve long held that humans effectively cannot be outside of or apart from nature. No matter the ethnicity, origin of the actors, nor degraded ecological outcomes that might result from our actions. I believe in participatory ecology (as well as multi-culturalism). We’re here to be a part of this. We might very well fuck it up, but we might also make it better if we take an honest look at ourselves, our social systems, and the natural situation in which we are embedded.
Ecology, taken neutrally, seems to support the notion that animals, especially mammals have important natural roles to play in seed dispersal. Consider:
“Seed dispersal via ingestion by vertebrate animals (mostly birds and mammals), or endozoochory, is the dispersal mechanism for most tree species. Endozoochory is generally a coevolved mutualistic relationship in which a plant surrounds seeds with an edible, nutritious fruit as a good food resource for animals that consume it.”
As well as dispersal vectors more broadly:
“There are two types of dispersal vector, those that are active and those that are passive. Active dispersal involves organisms that are capable of movement under their own energy. In passive dispersal, the organisms have evolved dispersal units, or propagules, that use the kinetic energy of the environment for movement. In plants, some dispersal units have tissue that assists with dispersal and are called diaspores. Some dispersal is self-driven (autochory), such as using gravity (barochory), and does not rely on external vectors. Other types of dispersal are due to external vectors, which can be biotic vectors, such as animals (zoochory), or abiotic vectors, such as the wind (anemochory) or water (hydrochory).“
I guess I just fail to see how it’s different if a bear eats and poops out an apple, causing seed dispersal, and if a human does it? Okay, a difference of scale might be one significant element here. But if the difference is scale, intensity, or systematization, we should probably express that as the value of relevance, rather than the species who is the vector (though that might obviously imply different scales of possibility).
Anyway, I am still just thinking these things through out loud and it helps to write them down.
There are other arguments put forth on MillionTrees (linked at top) which dovetail into those explored above. Namely that if we concede that the concept of “native” is time-bound based on a historical reference point, then we should also examine the differences between the climate in that place at that time, and what exists there now. Because climates are most definitely changing (even if we tentatively accept that anthropogenic climate change is itself “natural” because humans are part of nature — the sticking issue here being that our actions are causing degraded conditions, not that they are “unnatural”). And whether your reference point is something like 250 years ago, 25, or 2500, nature is not static. Average temperatures change. Precipitation changes. Dozens of other factors change over time. Nature is not static. Ecologies are dynamic and evolving, not frozen forever in one specific time period we decided to idolize for whatever reason.
The follow-on being that we might wind up with a climate/species mismatch if we try to revert a landscape to what we think was a previous and more desirable ecology by removing or suppressing all introduced or invasive species, and replacing them with officially-approved “natives.” What may have been well adapted to the conditions of 250 years ago may very well not be adapted to current conditions. Which makes the rationale for doing so even weaker than it already is.
These are threads I will keep unraveling as I go.