Category Archives: invasive species

Back yard cats, balloons, and butterfly releases

Image: Balloon release at the Yarmouth Old Gaffers Festival, by Editor5807 CC BY 3.0, via wikimedia.org

Someone’s cat just wandered across my back yard, and that got me thinking about butterfly releases.  No, really – stick with me for a moment.  There’s a connection, and, eventually, a bigger point.

By now, everyone ought to be aware that letting domestic cats roam outdoors is a terrible idea.  It’s terrible for the cats, who live shorter and less healthy lives; but much more important, it’s terrible for wildlife – cats kill millions of songbirds each year, and have (on islands) even been directly responsible for bird extinctions.  That there are self-identified cat “lovers” still insisting on letting cats outside says a lot about the phenomenal ability of humans to avoid (often deliberately) the acquisition of knowledge.  But this post shouldn’t become a rant about cats, so I’ll move on.

Balloon releases have more recently come under scrutiny, and it’s pretty obvious that they’re also a terrible idea.  Continue reading

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Gardens, beachheads, and invasions

Photo: Japanese knotweed © gerald_at_volp_dot_com, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Note: This is a science outreach piece belonging to a series I wrote for the newsletter of the Fredericton Botanic Garden.  I’d be happy to see it modified for use elsewhere and so am posting the text here under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license. If you use it, though, I’d appreciate hearing where and how.

A visit to a garden is a chance to see beautiful plants, and often, unfamiliar ones.  For centuries, gardeners have scoured the world for beauty that evolved in far-off lands. Many of our most cherished garden plants, then, originated somewhere else – and being the first to grow something new and strange has always been something to boast of.  The quest for new accessions is a fundamental part of gardening, and it’s fun and educational, but over the years it’s had its dark side, too.  That’s because gardening has been an important pathway for the arrival of invasive alien plants (and other creatures). Continue reading

To love or to hate Miss Rumphius?

Photo: Lupines at Svínafellsjökull, Iceland (photo S. Heard). Book cover, Miss Rumphius, Viking Press, fair use. Georg Rumpf, portrait from his Herbarium Amboinense (1741), public domain.

This is my 100th post on Scientist Sees Squirrel. You’ll notice it hits some of my favourite themes (but not statistics; everyone needs a break sometime). I hope you enjoy it, as I hope you’ve enjoyed a few others of my first 100.

I should hate this book, but I can’t.

330px-MissRumphiusBookCover“This book” is Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius (Viking Press, 1982; links below) – a picture book for young children that’s both lovely and profound. I read it to my son perhaps a hundred times, and if it weren’t for him thinking he’s outgrown the book (and being read to), I’d read it to him a hundred times more. I flinch every time I read it, but I keep coming back. I’ll explain both. Continue reading

Invasions, beauty, and ecosystem services: a conundrum

Photo: Lupines below Öræfajökull, Iceland (S. Heard)

In Iceland, in July, the landscape in many places is carpeted in blue. The fields of lupines (Lupinus nootkatensis) are almost impossibly beautiful*, and lupines are adored by tourists and by many Icelanders, too. But they’re not an Icelandic plant; they’re introduced and invasive. Thereby hangs a tale, and a conundrum for conservation biology.

I normally despise invasive species, as most ecologists do, but I have a lot of trouble hating lupines. Again and again I find myself smiling at a field of blue, and then catching myself with a start as I remember that they aren’t supposed to be here. I’ve had this reaction in Iceland, in New Zealand, and in my home of eastern Canada (and here’s a nice piece from Amy Parachnowitsch admitting to the same reaction in Sweden).

These beautiful lupines make obvious a serious problem in our efforts at nature conservation. It’s not a problem with conservation biology (which is the science of how to effect conservation, once we’ve decided to). It’s a problem of motivating conservation, and I think a deep philosophical one. That problem: why should we conserve natural ecosystems in the first place? Continue reading