Quite often I hear the words “I hate that invasive species”. Let us clarify what we really mean by that. It helps to have a global perspective in the subject. Of course, not all invasive species are non-native; but in this piece, I will be referring to human introductions which become invasive. I want to illustrate my point with a couple of examples:
I love native maple and pine trees; we all do. But they have been introduced in my home country of Argentina and some have become invasive. In that country the deadly silence of a grove of pine trees is numbing; there is no bird in sight because they can’t find what they need. This I hate.
I love water hyacinths. I love them in Argentina. The flowers are exquisite and the plant fills an ecological niche. I hate what water hyacinths do in North America, clogging waterways and displacing some native plants.
In summary, I love all plants and animals. There is a place for all of them. I regret what we humans do when we introduce them somewhere else and then face unintended consequences. I do not hate the species themselves. They are perfectly fine where they belong. I also do not hate their invasive qualities. Some species migrate without any help from us and get established somewhere else, such as the cattle egret has done in recent years, arriving from Africa on its own power. That is the way nature operates and that is how it should be. Species come and go. Ecosystems change and evolve. The occasional new arrival becomes integrated into the community. What I do deplore is the way we humans have been moving species in unprecedented number. Ecosystems do not have enough time to adapt to the continuous onslaught of newcomers.
I am sure that most of us think this way and that when somebody says “I hate that invasive plant” they are using the expression as shorthand for “I hate what that introduced species is doing to the ecosystem because . . . etc. etc.”
It is important to make this distinction because there appears to be a backlash against the native species movement. Some people are trying to justify the presence of certain non-natives. They sing their virtues and oppose efforts to eradicate invasive species.
I have seen that trend in a recent article by 19 ecologists published in Nature and discussed in the Conservation Magazine (Eco-bigotry). The team of ecologists says that non-native species are being “vilified” and recommend ending the bias against alien species. Another example of this view is expressed by a naturalist in reference to English ivy (Pollinators aplenty: English Ivy mixed blessings). He suggests that we should “view non-natives with less disdain”.
All this seems to reflect a misunderstanding about our ideas on invasive species. We, or at least I, do not vilify or disdain invasive species. We are not eco-bigots. All we want is to minimize the damage that is being done to ecosystem by species that have been introduced by humans in other places and that have become invasive. If we express hatred toward alien plants we provide fodder for their arguments.
Photos by Beatriz Moisset unless otherwise indicated
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