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
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.
“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
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
Image credits: Vulture, by Dori (email@example.com), CC BY-SA 2.0. Zane Grey in 1895, in Penn’s baseball uniform (http://hdl.library.upenn.edu/1017/d/archives/20051010001), public domain.
A couple of weeks ago I was in California, keeping my eyes peeled for interesting birds. Disappointingly, the first bird I saw was a starling – a bird I could have seen almost anywhere in the temperate world. The second was a turkey vulture. Vultures are common and ecologically important scavengers across most of the world*, although none occur in England or Scandinavia. There, eagles, kites, and corvids include carrion in their diets, but the avifauna lacks a carrion specialist – that niche is vacant.
This got me thinking. Continue reading