Photo: Lupines below Öræfajökull, and sheep grazing at Sandfell, Iceland (S. Heard)
Last summer, we were driving around southern Iceland, admiring the fields of lupines (beautiful, even though they’re invasive) and the gamboling sheep (also invasive, at least to the extent they’re allowed to graze free). Before long, we noticed an interesting pattern: we saw dense fields of lupines, without sheep; and we saw thousands upon thousands of sheep, in fields without lupines – but we drove for days without ever seeing sheep and lupines together.
Being a nerd scientist, I came up with a hypothesis to explain this pattern: Continue reading
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
Photos: Map of Iceland, circa 1590, Abraham Ortelius (public domain). Museum sign and merman, S. Heard. Giant waterbug, Lethocerus americanus, © Tom Murray CC BY-ND-NC 1.0 via bugguide.net.
I’ve just come from the Skrímslasetrið Bíldudal, the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum, in the town of Bíldudalur in the Western Fjords of Iceland. It’s a wonderful little museum commemorating centuries of monster sightings in the Arnarfjörður, the fjord that cuts like reaching fingers into the land here. The tour of the museum starts at a copy of Abraham Ortelius’s early-modern (1590) map of Iceland (above), which is copiously decorated with sea monsters. Some are obviously the product of observers grappling with strange new creatures, and getting them half-right and half-wrong (like the spouting boar-whale at bottom left of centre, or the monkfish behind it). Others seem like pure fancy, like the mer-horse above and left of the whale. All, however, look fierce and threatening. Continue reading