Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Invasive and Native Challenging Definitions

November 29, 2006-11-29

Invasive and native; two words, whose meanings shift in a shimmer of lexical imprecision, and lead, therefore, towards conflict and disagreement. The nature of language to change and adapt, and meaning to creatively evolve. For example, the English word “shall” had an original sense in Germanic languages of guilt, owing and obligation, which eventual began to be understood to include futurity.

So we note today that in conversation about species adaptation and change that we are pushing collectively a change in the meaning of certain key words. This happens when we attempt or are pushed to define precisely what we mean, even though we think we know it when we see it, to paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart. Thus the word invasive, which is derived from the verb invade, and ultimately from the Latin, invadere, to attack, go into, fall upon, invade, from “in” meaning in and “vadere” meaning to go, travel, wander. This level of meaning would not allow a native to be invasive by definition for something which is already present can not “move in”. Natives can become pests and nuisances and even detrimental and harmful, but it is hard to call them invaders. At some level, an organism or entity can not invade itself.

However, words change meaning, and invasive has come to carry inferences which would allow popular redefinitions of the word, such as are caused by the use of the word in phrases such as “invasive procedures” and “invasive questioning”. Accordingly, we find ourselves on the glittering sharp edge of conflicting definitions used to advance one cause or another. “And not only have deer become invasive but the few plants they don't eat have gotten out of control, too, like Kalmia, or the hay scented fern that grows in great sheets in the woods (both locally native, like the deer themselves). “[Garden].

The federal definition would exclude deer from being defined as invasive within their own current historic range. On the other hand, having destroyed or redeployed much of the natural habitat, one can see how deer in suburbia could be defined as invasive. Quickly, adept debaters will note my use of “historic” ranges, and question my popular use, not clearly defined, of the word historic. This demonstrates how fast we can get off track.

A larger challenge arises out of this simple definition exercise. Given current deer populations, what is the effect on native species of partially removing known invasives from their range? If the deer are spreading the non-natives, should the native deer be reduced in number to control the spread of the invasives or eliminated? Given the tendency for native deer to eat native species first, should planting strategies which might include non natives species, such as, Malus and Euonymus, which deer will eat first, be included in the management strategy, even if the species planted are not native? Control of a native species must be included with and invasive species management plan it would seem. This sequence easily leads users to think of native deer as invasive.

The other word with definition troubles is native. Quoting from the Online Etymological Dictionary in full:
native (adj.) c.1374, from O.Fr. natif (fem. native), from L. nativus "innate, produced by birth," from natus, pp. of nasci, gnasci "be born," related to gignere "beget," from PIE base *gen-/*gn- "produce" (see genus). The noun is c.1450, originally meaning "person born in bondage," later (1535) "person who has always lived in a place." Applied from 1652 to original inhabitants of non-European nations where Europeans hold political power; hence, used contemptuously of "the locals" from 1800. Nativism as a U.S. anti-immigrant movement is from 1845.”
The political fall out from exacting a precise definition is akin to a semantic weapon of mass destruction. Since there are at least four dimensions to understanding a species evolvement which include not only space but time, our abilities to hang on to all the variables when forming ideas for debate and discussion rapidly reduces to a bare minimum. When we in a public sense use the word native, we are thinking of those things familiar in both place and time to us today here and now. There is arbitrariness to our assigning a random date in time based upon our current politically correct views. Native becomes any species which was here before: the American Indians, the Vikings, the Italo-Hispanic, the English, industrialization, and or modern high speed travel.

The frequent underlying shift in perception and definition can tangle and derail discussions about natural area land management mostly because they are not discussed a priori, leading inexorably to disagreement. Invasive species and natural area land management is an issue of gardening on a large scale which includes species choice decisions, weeding, cultivation practices, seasonal clean up and landscape design and use. When we use horticultural terms broadly, we can almost begin to see the chores needed for success. I shall be revisiting the topic of defintion as for me it goes to the heart of getting agreement.
Invasive definitions: native and exotic
Fuzzy Invasive Defintions

No comments: