MAKES SOME INVASIVE SPECIES SO BAD?
by Whit Gibbons
July 8, 2002
Paul van Dijk's business card sports a panda , the logo used by the
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). A primary goal of WWF is to "stop
the degradation of the planet's natural environment," and Peter
Paul works with a program called TRAFFIC, which monitors international
trade in wild plants and animals.
in Malaysia, being Dutch, and speaking fluent English, Peter Paul
is well equipped to deal with the melee of cultural politics and agendas
related to international trade in plants and animals. The job presumably
ranges from one of frustration in dealing with international bureaucracies
and a few greedy people to one of extreme satisfaction when progress
is made on a conservation front. As the Senior Programme Officer for
TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Peter Paul has been involved in many conservation
issues, one being the problems resulting from introduced species that
are viewed as invasive. Standard examples in the United States are
fire ants, kudzu, and ragweed.
species are generally unpopular in their foster homes, where they
are viewed as interlopers that need to be eradicated. Although many
invasive species require legitimate eradication efforts, the issue
is not entirely black-and-white. Peter Paul offered some intriguing
thoughts about whether certain problems associated with some proclaimed
invasive species are as serious as people in the region make them
out to be. The common denominator in this scenario is that a plant
or animal species touted as an invasive nuisance may provide a source
of funding, validation, or other justification for an agency or organization.
If there's no nuisance there's no rationale for the agency or organization.
What are the reasons for an introduced species to be declared an invasive
problem? One valid reason, of course, is that the introduced species
is responsible for eliminating a native species such as happened with
the chestnut blight. But an agency with a program directed toward
eliminating an introduced alien species does not want the nuisance
value of the species downplayed. If a species can be given a bad rap,
an agency is more likely to receive public and government support,
support that translates into funding for eradicating the species or
preventing it from becoming established. No nuisance means no funding.
I'm sure we can all think of a situation that has been made to seem
worse than it is so someone can gain power, control, or money.
Paul has seen some introduced species declared as invasive perils
because of cultural reasons. If the introduced species is from a country
that is an enemy of or unpopular in the host country, the newcomer
is less likely to be accepted. For example, red-eared slider turtles
are native to the United States but survive successfully in most temperature
zone areas in the world where they have been introduced. They may
be a problem in some countries because they compete with native species
of turtles. But even when they are not a problem, their U.S. origin
prevents their getting any special understanding or sympathy in many
regions of the world.
A final reason for declaring a species a problem is to use it as a
scapegoat for environmental degradation that has already occurred.
The red-eared slider is again a good example. In regions of Southeast
Asia where red-ears have been accidentally introduced, they are often
the only turtle species to be found. Blaming a North American species
for the loss of native turtles may make a good story politically,
but in much of Southeast Asia, most native turtles had already disappeared
long before the red-ears arrived. Removal of Asian wild turtles for
the restaurant trade has reached such proportions that many are now
gone from entire counties, and some will soon be extinct throughout
their geographic range, red-eared sliders or not. Blaming a home-caused
environmental problem on an introduced species from another continent
can cover a multitude of sins.
None of these examples detract from the fact that some introduced
species are legitimate nuisances that we would do well to be rid of.
But the reason they are defined as problems may be of our own making.
Can you think of any examples in your region that fit one of the models
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