Saturday, May 15, 2010

Invasive issues and complicated species

 I apologise to my readers for the lack of hyperlinks.  However due to an IE8 upgrade I did not want, I am no longer able to write in word and copy to blogger with my hyperlinks intact.  If anyone has a non technical, non download necessary, easy to handle solution, I am all ears.   Until such time as this Technosaur, or IE and Blogger figure things out, I suppose that I will be reduced to just writing the words with out the new fangled technologies.

The issues that make up the world of invasive species involve a large number of stakeholders and interested parties. These parties are usually only interested the continuum of invasion that directly impacts their interests. Medical health professional for example are very interested in insects that can transmit human disease such as the tiger mosquito and West Nile Virus. Gardeners are interested in invasive insects and diseases such as Japanese beetles, Popillia japonica, first found in New Jersey around 1916, which attack many ornamentals including hybrid tea roses and the dogwood destroying fungus, anthracnose, Discula destructive, first seen in the United States near Connecticut and Washington State in the mid-1970s. Farmers are concerned about invasive weeds such as cogon grass, Imperata cylindrica, and soybean rust, Phakopsora pachyrhizi, to name only two of the many non indigenous species that can decimate agricultural yields. The recreational fisherman struggles with the non native Hydrilla verticillata while the commercial oystermen fight against the newly introduced green crab, Carcinus maenas.

Some species are invasive per se, such as emerald ash borer, kudzu, Asian long horned beetle or lythrum in specific conditions that allow their rapid expansion and domination. Invasive species can travel on their own power once introduced. Or, they can make use of one of the most efficient vectors or transport organisim which, of course, is mankind. They make use of the pathways created through his travel and his fast moving and wide-ranging marketplaces. Repeated reintroduction places pressure on the native self sustaining ecosystem until a point is reached at which the invasive species caused stress becomes so great that the original ecosystem begins to dramatically alter or even fail. One invasive species like the proverbial pet rabbit is usually not a problem until the next day when there mysteriously is suddenly and more than one rabbit about which to care.

Invasive species can attack humans directly causing illness, injury and death. Further, they can attack the ecosystems humans depend on thereby also causing illness, injury or death. Our solutions to the two events are interestingly dissimilar if not unexpected. We tend to get very excited about the first kind, and perform an elaborate denial maneuver akin to an ostrich when thinking about the second type of invasion. That is not to say that a 15 foot python or 60 pound flying carp cannot directly focus one’s immediate attention. However the focus is short-lived in ecological terms. The immediate attention is on the individual invasive species as a misplaced species in the sudden excitement of the moment rather than the head hurting, complications found by considering the invasion process and implications for tomorrow.

Invasive species coast resources calculated by some to be around 130 billion dollars per year/ This calculation does not include the loss of what might have been. For example, how are we going to calculate the loss of ash trees for baseball bats when there are no ash trees? What is the value of the loss of the Sonoran Desert landscape when the African buffel grass completely takes over in the American southwest? How do we calculate the value of not being able to eat an oyster, or to scuba dive safely because of lionfish invasion of Atlantic waters? If there are no more eastern woodland native wild flowers because of the non indigenous invasion of weeds and escaped ornamentals, what is the cost in dollars? More importantly, does anyone care enough to pay to stop the invasion? Is there anyone willing to make a sacrifice to preserve that upon which we cannot place an exact present dollar value?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Invasive Oil Spills -Species of a Similar Ilk

Invasive species are altering, destroying and irrevocably altering the ecosystems that we all depend on for clean air and clean water, genetic diversity, food and forests, recreation and social health. Except for a few charismatic species such as pythons, mute swans, tiger mosquitoes, lion fish, lythrum or kudzu, invasive species impact the systems mostly unnoticed because their scale of operation is too slow for normal human perception. Like a very slow forest fire, invasive plants, pests and pathogens are “burning” up our natural spaces without much notice on the part of most people. The change in local complex ecosystems is simply too slow to see, let alone imagine, in our fast paced world.

The oil located some 13000 feet beneath 5000 feet of and ecological system that is part of the Caribbean is flowing up and out and over to the shallow water of coastal North America and thence up on to the shore coating all life in its path with black gold. This is not a natural disaster like an earthquake or a volcano, but, rather, a man-made ecological catastrophe. The wants and needs of 6 billion people are fueled by hydrocarbons created from the remains of dead plants and animals over distant past eons. The destruction unfolds in a human-scaled time though the scale is beyond individual comprehension. The human time scale is measured in hours and days and weeks; the creation of the oil deposit is well beyond any point of human understanding of the passing of time.

The tension between a desire to managed our environment to maximize our expectations for life based upon our millennia of agrarian history that is reinforced by cultural norms found in our common stories of what constituted the good life in our past is on conflict with our outrage that our actions are destroying the lives and industries of fellow citizens as well as destroying wildlife and habitat for reasons not clear at first. We line up on one side of the issue or the other; either the eminent destruction is a consequence of modernization and our economic market place, or the search for oil is an evil that can be stopped by not drilling. Those who clamor for more oil want it so they can drive and visit recreational venues such as the gulf coast or so they can dine on fresh sea-food, both choices of which they will find beyond their grasp when the oil completely changes the very ecological dynamics they needed the oil for in the first place. The proponents of no drilling are willing to commit to a new life style immediately without too much consideration as to the unexpected outcomes of a rapid withdrawal from the oil fired economy of the world that may choose to continue using the oil they freely choose not to use.

For the oil-spill, the politicians are willing to take sides and stakeout positions. The damage the impact and the playing out of the problem are happening to ecosystems at a rate of time we can understand. We can see the destruction happening as it were and pick our positions accordingly. When pythons slip the surly bonds of captivity and slink into the Everglades their release is like a drip of water from a faucet with a faulty washer. When a lion fish or two or three or so are accidentally freed by forces of nature, or “freed” into nature because of a care takers change of heart, the impact grows like some exponential curve too slowly at first to notice. When the gardener continues to import and plant garden species that may also transport diseases or even worse be a natural area weed, there is little thought as to either the damage they may cause over time or to whom the bill should be presented to remove them when they skip the light fandango. For as surely as the waves of oil will change dramatically in the short term the ecosystems of the gulf and impact species in ways we can only imagine in the long run, so too invasive species shall similarly change the last best remembrances of a natural world..