Sunday, September 23, 2007

Invasive Species Complexities: A Wicked Inconvenience

As I try to connect the various components and discussion that comprise the world of invasive species, I find myself more and more investigating areas of knowledge seemingly far removed from the world of traditional ornamental gardening. From my postings entitled: National Agricultural Research Center; Invasive Species, Climate Change & Poison Ivy and Invasive species, BARC, Kudzu and Bio-fuel to those on wicked problems: Invasive Species; Wicked Inconvenience: part two and Inconvenient question: Invasive species.

Now after a casual morning of web surfing I find: Recent developments in the science and management of invasive alien plants: connecting the dots of research
knowledge, and linking disciplinary boxes: ”Many new or less well-known aspects of plant invasions were discussed. For example: (i) The complexity of real-life systems was highlighted using quantitative food-web models. These show that changes in species composition caused by plant invasions could have serious consequences for higher trophic levels, and may greatly affect organisms at levels that have no direct connection with the invasive plant species in question. (ii) Evidence was presented of what was dubbed ‘invasional meltdown’, meaning synergistic interactions between invasive species that promote further invasions and exacerbate their detrimental effects. (iii) Particularly alarming was the revelation that various elements of global change (global warming, elevated atmospheric CO2, nitrogen deposition, habitat fragmentation) are already interacting to worsen the impacts of plant invasions. Some experimental results suggest that elevated CO2 levels have already had a marked effect on traits of some key invasive species in North America: increased biomass production, expanded leaf area and spininess, and enhanced pollen loads.1 All of these traits, alone or in combination, affect how these plants influence native species, and the invasibility of the ecosystems they occupy.”

The intertwined nature of two co-equal, co-evolving, and related problems is a key defining feature of a classic wicked problem. My efforts, which try to bring the public’s attention to inadequate and falling funding for the National Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, BARC: Funding for Research Continues to Fall, and to the companion agency, the National Agricultural Library, also come to mind, when I read this report on line. Trying to cobble together a stake-holder’s group on a no-budget, all volunteer basis to somehow prod our political leaders into funding and supporting work in not only invasive species, but feathers to plastic work, agricultural genetics, and remote sensing to name a few continues to be a challenge.

Given what I know about the National Library’s funding crisis, it is possible that someday in the near future, work like Dr. Ziska’s will possibly be funded by a foreign government grant, and the resulting paper will be unavailable to the congressionally mandated library, because they no longer have the budget to buy foreign scientific journals. The library needs around 3.8 million dollars to get back into the foreign journal subscription process, but I am having trouble getting a group of stake-holders interested in the problem. The National Library as of now can no longer afford foreign scientific journals.

And if this seems rather straight forward, just try to get funding to upgrade building that are over 70 years old. Vital to the study of invasive species is the science of systematics and the collections in some cases of which are over a century old. You cannot begin to speak of a species, if you cannot identify it. We should be working to create a national systematic building and center to house our endangered collections; instead we reduce their funding and hope that someone somewhere will have the presence of mind to take care of them even as universities try to unload them.

All of this is related to the difficulty of getting funding for invasive species and climate change. Even though there is a National Invasive Species Council, without the funding to actually encourage science and action, the power is limited to attempting to be a facilitator of communication of ideas and concept for federal agency competition for limited funds.

In some ways, this, then, is the challenge of invasive species, the wicked inconvenience; that each time I think I have a understanding of the stakeholders and their particular desired result, I find that any ability to focus is diffused and that since in the end all of us are stake-holders, I have no stake-holders to lobby and influence the funding process. The ever changing nature of knowledge and science means the end game remains in motion and long term, distinctly at odds with our craving for short term solutions that take place within a financial reporting cycle of a year or less. Attempting to get funding for projects that last a generation run counter to our present desire for instant success.

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