Loving the Alien (or Not)

Spring has sprung. The earth renews itself and the grand cycle of life continues. And, oh yeah, the damn weeds are taking over the yard again. While definitely not rational (nature always wins after all) I’ve always thought there was a certain doomed nobility in taking up arms, in the form of spades and shovels, against the weedy invaders in my yard.

But does my relationship with weeds and other ‘undesirables’ need to be adversarial? Recent books about our relationship with nature have opened up a debate about the whole concept of defining species as desirable or undesirable, native or invasive. Maybe the problem isn’t in the yard, but in my head. Here are three newer titles that explore the line between good and bad in the animal and plant kingdoms.

Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction by Chris Thomas

This provocative work states that the widely accepted idea of human activities causing the destruction of the environment and the loss of species is actually looking at the situation incorrectly. Humans are altering the environment for sure, but, Thomas argues, this new environment actually benefits certain adaptable species. The end result?  More new species will be created than destroyed. The key to his argument lies in examining the animals and plants that are labeled invasive. For the author, these species are simply the ones that successfully exploit the new environment and survive. For Thomas, nature is ultimately more resilient and adaptable than we think.

The Aliens Among Us: How Invasive Species are Transforming the Planet—and Ourselves by Leslie Anthony

Anthony has little sympathy for those who refuse to see invasive species as a threat or who downplay their impact on the environment. Instead, he advocates for a vigorous defense of the native and an eradication of the invasive. To prove his point he goes on the frontline with the scientists and environmentalists battling undesirable species (such as Scotch Broom, Lampreys and Pythons) and celebrates their hard work and dedication to the cause. He also goes into an enlightening history of specific species and how they ended up in the wrong places: the Norway Rat owes its presence in 90 percent of the world to trade by sea for example. This book is an entertaining call to arms.

Where Do Camels Belong: the Story and Science of Invasive Species by Ken Thompson

Thompson argues that the real problem when it comes to invasive vs. native species lies in definitions. As the title suggests, he uses the camel as a prime example. We think of camels as native to the Middle East but in fact they evolved and lived in North America for millions of years, retain their greatest biological diversity in South America, and are currently only ‘wild’ in Australia. So where are they native exactly? He makes a convincing argument using other species as well. In the end he advocates for getting beyond the stark and illogical definitions of native and invasive and simply judging species by their impact on the environment as it currently exists.

So what is a conscientious gardener to do: take up arms against all that is invasive or let nature take its course? We all have to make our own choices, but as for me I choose to play favorites. The native Kinnikinnick is a great ground cover, but once it start encroaching on my beloved, and definitely introduced, Monkey Puzzle Tree the shears are coming out.

One thought on “Loving the Alien (or Not)

  1. Great to see two sides to an issue presented–for and against invasive species. A timely and welcomed debate.

    Like

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