Monday 21 January 2019
The New Wild by Fred Pearce
Subtitled Why Invasive Species will be Nature's Salvation this provocative book is sure to enrage some conservationists and cuase consternation among many organisations working in ecological restoration. It is however well worth reading even if you violently disagree with what Pearce says.
The main argument of the book is that we should stop worrying about invasive non native species and welcome them with open arms as the saviours of our degraded ecosystems. Now there are some species of non-native species that have definitely been beneficial in some places - I'm thinking of the rabbit in the UK which has probably proven far more beneficial in terms of providing food for our predatory mammals and birds than destructive in destroying crops while in Australia I'm guessing it's been far more destructive.
One of my problems with this book is that Pearce treats non-natives that have moved into new territories themselves as essentially the same as non native species that have been introduced by humans. The first generally are an ecological adaptation to changing conditions (species colonising new volcanic islands for example, or species moving towards the poles as the climate warms) while the second have been brought in artificially. The latter are much more likely to become problematic - think the three main invasive plants in Scotland (giant hogweed, Himalayan Balsam and the dreaded Japanese Knotweed that, if it is discovered in your garden is likely to make your house impossible to sell) or kudzu in the USA.
My other problem is that Pearce seems to see things as a balance sheet, he admits that introduced species in Hawaii, for example, have lead to some native species becoming extinct, but, he says, this is okay because there are more new species than extinct species. This overlooks the fact that every extinct species is a unique species that will never return from extinction and that specific species and all its genetic information has now been lost.
On the other hand, Pearce makes some good points. Why don't we consider more often how to use invasive species in a practical way, instead of just removing them? (For example Japanese Knotweed apparently can be eaten like rhubarb, but rules in the UK say it can't be transported from a site where it has been removed and must be burned on site, so no Japanese Knotweed pie unless made surreptitiously on site). Ecology is more fluid than many scientists have previously thought and than most of us have probably been taught and humans have historically had more impact on even the most seemingly pristine environments (incuding the Amazon) than we suspected until recently and nature can reclaim these areas surprisingly quickly, though the ecology will be different afterwards than it was pre-human impact. Also the human degradation of the environment is often the reason that some non-native species become invasive and cause problems. If the ecosystem was healthier, then the new species would be more likely to be kept in check and become an interesting addition to the ecology of a place rather than causing chaos (and there are some very interesting examples of this in the book).
So this is a fascinating book, which is guaranteed to make you think.
The New Wild by Fred Pearce published by Icon Books (2015)
You may also be interested in reading this article:
Do Non Native Species Count as Biodiversity? by Daniel Simberloff .