David I. Theodoropoulos, Las Sombras Biological
Preserve, Box 337, La Honda, CA 94020-0337 USA
NATIVES Vs. EXOTICS: THE MYTH OF THE MENACE
Non-Native Species as Allies of Diversity
There is an idea, popular in some circles, that 'non-native' species are somehow harmful, that 'aggressive exotics' can invade ecosystems and destroy 'native species'. It surprises me to see the public and biologists alike uncritically accept this absurd notion.
"But the Emperor has no clothes!"—Folktale.
In this spirit I would like to point out that there is absolutely no biological validity to the concepts of 'native' and 'exotic' species, nor is there evidence that man's introduction of species into new habitats has any negative impact on global biological diversity. On the contrary, the aid we have given species in their movement around the world has served to increase both global and local diversity. It is one of the few human activities which is beneficial to the non-human creation. It cannot be distinguished from the movement of species by wind or ocean currents, or the aid other species give to their fellows, such as the distribution of seeds by migrating birds.
"All living beings have the right to engage in the struggle for existence."—L. H. Bailey.
There are no adequate definitions of 'native' and 'exotic', since there has been constant movement of species since the beginning of life. Witness the migration of species across the Bering Straits and the Isthmus of Panama. Great exchange of species has occurred between both oceanic and continental biota in these areas as they have been repeatedly submerged and exposed, alternately being corridors for aquatic and terrestrial life. In response to the Ice Ages, great movement of species has occurred. Even now, I understand that the armadillo is extending his range north from his native México. Is he an exotic invader? If we naturalize elephants in the tropical Americas, will they be exotics, or will this simply be the return of the Proboscidea to their pre-glacial range?
Apparent cases of destructive invasion by 'exotics' are usually examples of the beginning of an outbreak-crash population sequence occurring as a species moves into the niche provided by a heavily man-disturbed habitat, to be followed by the inevitable crash and subsequent adaptation and integration of the 'exotic' into the local ecosystem.
Intact ecosystems are highly resistant to invasion, and there are also many cases of 'exotics' acting as nurse-plants and revegetators, helping the native ecosystem to reclaim its man-destroyed habitat. I have seen a grassy meadow and a field of star thistles side by side, with only barbed wire separating them. The fence can't stop the thistle seed, yet it does not invade the intact meadow, showing the thistle to be an antibody-like response of the prairie ecosystem to overgrazing by cattle.
New species create niches for more species, further increasing potential diversity. Many species are extinct in their original habitat, existing only where they have been introduced to new areas by man. We are changing the world through our destruction, pollution, and now possible climate change. Local ecosystems need the infusion of new species to help their adaptation to a changed environment.
"You stay, I go."—Ishi, last of the Yana.
It is ironic to me to hear people of European ancestry accuse other organisms of being 'invasive exotics, displacing native species'.
Even the wildest unfounded claims of invasion by 'exotics' pale in comparison to the land area occupied by technological man's monoculture crops. These crop-deserts and modern man's extractive land-domination economy are the threat to biodiversity, not 'escaped exotics'.
There are documented cases in which attempts to exterminate 'exotics' have in fact pushed native species to the brink of extinction!
Attempts to eradicate so-called non-native species are impossible, absurd, and destructive to the very habitats they hope to preserve. As an alternative, I propose: The protection of all intact ecosystems from human destruction, and the deliberate introduction of species into the areas we have already damaged. Introduction priorities should be based on phylogenetic relationships - non-represented groups and taxa of restricted distribution should be given priority. Threatened and endangered species should be given full protection and introduced into new habitats whenever possible.
"Migrants of ape in gasoline crack of history."—William Burroughs.
We have only a brief moment in history when fossil fuels will continue to allow us rapid worldwide travel. Let us use this time wisely, to the benefit of all species.—J.L.H. & S.L.C., 11/89.
Theodoropoulos, D., [Hudson, J. L., pseud.], and S. L. Calkins. 1990. Natives vs. exotics: The myth of the menace. The Ethnobotanical Catalog of Seeds 51:3,91.
Natives vs. Exotics Update, November 1994.
The 'anti-exotics' movement is a growing threat to biodiversity conservation efforts. In the past 10 years, the mythology of 'invasive non-native species' has spread from a minor pseudoscience indulged in by the gullible fringe, to a growing extremist movement uncritically embraced by otherwise responsible environmental groups.
Our natural areas, from bio-preserves to National Parks are daily attacked by these extremists, using herbicide, chainsaws and bulldozers. Dozens of native plants have been falsely labeled invaders and are being exterminated. The process is driven in part by hysteria, and in part by greed- tremendous sums of money are being made on these extermination projects. For example, Monsanto, a major herbicide manufacturer was a sponsor of the 1994 California Exotic Pest Plant Council meeting, has an employee on the Council's board of directors, and was hawking their herbicides at a prominent booth. During breaks there was open discussion of ways to circumvent environmental laws restricting herbicide use in sensitive natural areas.
'Exotic Pest Plant Councils' are cropping up around the country, promoting heavy use of herbicides in our parks, and lobbying for extremist legislation, including a federal law which will prohibit any movement of any species unless the government determines it will 'cause no harm'. Only species on so called 'clean lists' will be allowed to be distributed or imported. Any species not on the 'clean list' will require expensive testing and approval before distribution. This is the final thrust towards the total corporate control of biodiversity- only they will be able to afford testing.
This will eliminate our single most effective biodiversity preservation strategy. The only effective long-term method of preserving biodiversity is the naturalization of species in new regions, where they may thrive and spread without human protection. While bio-preserves, parks, botanic gardens and zoos are important and needed, these are only temporary measures- what park will be able to withstand the future's starving billions?
Two forces are causing rapid destructive change- the rapid increase in human population, and the rapid spread of technological/industrial society. These forces are working together to cause a worldwide biological holocaust similar to past extinction events. The techno/industrial society expands, destroying indigenous, biologically-derived human cultures, replacing them with a homogenous, machine-derived pseudoculture of production and consumption. A vicious circle is created when the survival drives of an ever-expanding population force humanity to adopt the short-term resource extractive methods and values of the techno/industrial pseudoculture. Although theoretically, simple methods exist for opening this circle and exiting with minimal human and biological suffering, this is likely precluded by our biological imperatives, as well as the overpowering machine-imperatives of industrial consumption. Whether this vicious circle will reach critical mass and crash in a single, precipitous de-populating, de-industrializing event, or will unravel in a series of stepwise crashes over the next thousand years or so is anyone's guess. However, it seems likely that high rates of extinction will prevail over the next 1000 to 10,000 years or so.
It has been demonstrated that the human transport of organisms may establish new populations of species in safe refuges, preventing extinction & increasing local biodiversity. In the short term, this directly protects the naturalized species from extinction in its homeland, and the enriched diversity provides a buffer against the effects of human-induced extinctions on the local ecosystem, increasing its resiliency, helping its adaptation to change and promoting the healing of damaged areas. In the long term, this promotes evolutionary processes, since the interaction among unlike organisms is a powerful driving force of evolution. The diversifying evolutionary cascades which will result offer the chance that our species will leave the world with the potential for increased diversity, somewhat offsetting our current shameful irresponsibility.
Knowingly or unknowingly, gardeners participate in this process. Through their lifeways, all organisms modify their environment and participate in the creation of the landscapes in which they live. Corals build reefs, plants create soil, and animals transport seeds & nutrients long distances. Part of the lifeways of bluejays & squirrels is to plant acorns far from the oak, helping the forest migrate or heal burned or cleared areas. Our own lifeways of traveling about and admiring beauty cause us to gather useful and beautiful plants to grow around our homes, initiating the process of diversification. Many primates are key seed dispersal vectors in tropical ecosystems, and this is part of our evolutionary heritage.
The reintroduction of diminished or exterminated species is diversity restoration, restoration gardening or restoration ecology. We call the introduction of endangered species 'rescue gardening' or 'rescue ecology'. The study of the diversity-enhancing introduction of new species we call 'enrichment ecology'; the practice, 'ecological enrichment'.—J.L.H., 11/94.
Natives vs. Exotics Update, November 1995.
The extremist anti-exotic movement continues to grow. At the 1995 meeting of the California Exotic Pest Plant Council, an agreement was reached among existing state Councils to create a national umbrella Council to push their herbicide agenda nationwide. These Pest Plant Councils are merely front-groups for the multi-billion dollar herbicide industry; they are funded by, and have internal connections with Monsanto and other herbicide manufacturers. Like other pseudo-environmental front groups, they push destructive corporate interests in the guise of ecological concern.
The USDA is undergoing a major, cost-cutting downsizing, with the closure of many offices and loss of many jobs. Perhaps in a effort to head off future budget-cuts, they are joining forces with the anti-exotics movement, calling for sweeping new powers and regulations. Randy Westbrooks, USDA, APHIS, addressed the meeting, calling for passage of the 'clean list' law, which will prevent all new importations, and even interstate movement of plants and animals without expensive testing. Under the guise of a 'Plant Protection Act' Westbrooks said the new testing would be similar to the 30 to 40 million dollar safety testing needed to market a new toxic chemical. The New York City-based Natural Resources Defense Council supports this; their attorney, Faith Campbell has been propagandizing for such a law for several years. This clearly mis-named organization has also been accused of working with Conoco to open up indigenous Amazonian Huaorani territory to oil development.
This agenda turns environmentalism on its head; it is the direct opposite of everything we environmentalists stand for. Imagine a nation in which this industry-backed program is successful- the wholesale poisoning of our natural areas by ecosystem-destroying chemicals will be mandatory government policy profiting corporate giants, yet wild plants and animals, the very components of the natural world and basis of all biological diversity will require multi-million dollar testing for "safety"!
Also ominous is the fact that during Adolf Hitler's 'Third Reich', the National Socialists (Nazi Party) had an identical program to rid the landscape of 'foreign' plants. An interesting paper, "Some Notes on the Mania for Native Plants in Germany", by Gert Groening and Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn (Landscape Journal, Vol. II, No. 2, 1992) details this history. The extension of the Nazi pseudoscience of racial purity to the natural world is chillingly identical to the modern anti-exotics agenda, down to the details of 'genetic contamination'. With the current rise of racism, immigrant-scapegoating, & other noxious, un-American ideologies, we must be prepared to hold all those who are promoting the anti-exotics frenzy personally responsible for their part in legitimizing a pseudoscience which leads directly to the horrors we saw in the 1940's. Clearly, 'eco-fascist' is not too strong a term to describe these people.
As I have stated before, the tenets of the anti-exotics movement are entirely without scientific merit. All unbiased studies prove that man-aided migration of organisms increases biological diversity, and these newcomers are frequently highly beneficial to local ecosystems. The anti-exotics extremists disregard the mountains of research which refute their claims, and the most fundamental questions that would be addressed by basic ecological research are discarded in favor of a propagandistic presentation of anecdotal evidence.
The free movement of germplasm is essential to new-crops research; essential to the preservation of the food and medicinal plant germplasm central to feeding an expanding human population, & essential to the vital preservation strategies of ecological restoration and biological enrichment. To safeguard this free movement we must begin to educate the public concerning the pseudoscientific foundations of the anti-exotics movement, their bureaucratic & herbicide industry connections, their origins in an ideology of race-hatred, and their agenda of total control. We must form watchdog groups to monitor the Exotic Pest Plant Councils, and educate lawmakers and environmental organizations who may be misled by extremists. These groups could mobilize opposition to legislation and perhaps begin boycotts against environmental organizations which support these bad laws. I cannot organize these groups myself, but if you are interested, send your name and address, and I'll begin to build a list of names to be shared among those listed. For biologists, we need to establish a Society for Enrichment Biology, and publish a peer-reviewed Journal of Enrichment Ecology, for research papers pertaining to this new field. Interested biologists should contact me.
It goes without saying that native plants and animals deserve our protection. We should be prepared to defend our natural areas with our very lives if necessary.
I have devoted my life to the protection of the natural world. I will stand second to no one in my love and respect for all living beings. I encourage all people to dedicate themselves to the study of, the appreciation of, the love of, and the protection of the living beings that surround us.—J.L.H., 12/95.
Natives vs. Exotics Update, November 1997.
We are seeing greater use of prison labor in anti-exotics extermination projects. It is becoming quite popular to use these unpaid, predominantly minority prison work-gangs as slave-labor to do the hard physical work of extermination. I have also found modern anti-exotics writers (The Garden Philosopher, C. Goethe) who are explicitly racist, likening 'weeds' to 'inferior races' and vice-versa. Active work towards banning importations continues. This is not going to go away- if you don't want to be limited to the plants sold at the local Price-Mart, you will have to take action. Letters to the editor in response to newspaper and magazine articles may be effective. Point out the biological invalidity of the anti-exotics stance, their funding by the herbicide industry, its origin in Hitler's Zentralstelle fuer Vegetationskartierung des Deutschen Reiches and the Reichskomissar fuer die Festigung deutschen Volkstums, & its ongoing connection to ideologies of race-hatred.—J.L.H., 11/97.
Natives vs. Exotics Update, November 1998.
Herbicide manufacturers American Cyanamid, DowElanco, Zeneca, SePro & others have joined Monsanto in supporting the exotic extremists.
The scientific information-pool is being deeply contaminated by articles by researchers with an economic interest in promoting weed extermination. A new tactic is to make spurious claims that native species with expanding populations are in fact 'nonlocal ecotypes', ignoring the human disturbance causing the population shift (the atmospheric deposition of nitrogen from air pollution, for example).
As constructed, alien-invader theory is founded on non-operational constructs, is immune to testing, cannot be falsified, and has no predictive capacity. Its structure & conceptual elements are identical in all particulars with those of racism, fascistic nationalism, and other conspiracy theories. Instantly recognizable is the "ultimate attribution error" of Pettigrew's cognitive analysis of prejudice. Circular reasoning, low standards of evidence, self-sealing arguments, unsupported causal attribution and resistance to contradictory evidence are frequent.
Changed conditions change community composition and structure.—J.L.H., 11/98.
These little essays were written years ago - I present them here because they include many of the first published refutations of the flaws of invasion biology and its defective conceptual structure. I am glad to claim priority of publication of many of these points - they appeared in these essays my catalog long before others made the same points elsewhere. It has been said that the quickest way of flushing obscure publications from their hiding places in the libraries of the world is to claim publication priority for oneself, as colleagues will then eagerly ferret out any previous publications of the idea.
My views have changed a little over the years, as my knowledge and thinking on the subject has deepened, and in occasional details now differ slightly from those presented here. But I stand by nearly all of the points made above, and am heartened that, in recent years more scientists have recognized the validity of my claims, and have begun to publish articles questioning the invasionist ideology. From the letters I have received over the years, my little essays were apparently widely circulated among academics (especially during the early 1990s), and apparently triggered some significant changes in thinking. When my book "Invasion Biology: Critique of a Pseudoscience" was published in 2003, it caused considerable controversy, but has apparently prompted significant reexamination of invasionist ideology. There has since been some significant retrenching on the part of invasion biologists, as they have scrambled to patch the leaks in their field. For more information on this subject, please read my book.
Proper acknowledgement of the origin of new ideas is a sign of good scholarship, as well as a manifestation of the goodwill and fellowship of the world scientific community.
For example, Patrick Matthew (1790-1874), an arborist and fruit grower, published the theory of the evolution of species by means of natural selection in an appendix to his obscure work "Naval Timber and Arboriculture" in 1831, fully 27 years before Wallace and Darwin shook the world with their publication of the same theory. The theory is therefore best called the Matthew/Wallace/Darwin theory of evolution. An honorable man, and always the gentleman, Darwin fully acknowledged Matthew's priority in subsequent editions of The Origin of Species—"He clearly saw... the full force of the principle of natural selection." Matthew also recognized, in advance of others, that periodic mass extinctions had occurred.