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Toward Sustainability Foundation

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Book Review

March 23, 2016

The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature's Salvation, Fred Pearce, Beacon Press, 2015

 

Environmental writer Fred Pearce is an environmental consultant at New Scientist and a frequent contributor to the Guardian and e360, Yale's prestigious website. For a long time he, and many others including me have followed the crowd describing invasive as “evil interlopers” that must be controlled so our perceived “good” native species can maintain their place in our favorite ecosystems. Most conservationists and scientists share this seemingly unassailable viewpoint. But asks Pearce “ What if the traditional view is wrong?

 

What if we should be welcoming the invaders?

 

Ever since my first GOMI conference 13 years ago when I partnered with Jim Morris, a plant ecologist working with the Plum Island Long Term Ecosystem Research team (PIE- LTER), I have been troubled by his question about invasive in the salt marsh. “Isn't it just evolution? These invasive are better adapted to live here than our so called natives”. In The New Wild, Pearce goes on a six continent journey exploring the questionable costs of dealing with the invaders and revealing several outdated intellectual sources that have shaped our ideas about the balance of Nature. The author acknowledges certain destructive and disruptive patterns by some introduced species but also points out that most of the time they either die out or settle down and become part of the biodiversity of the new “rewilded” ecosystem. In this instance, the case for keeping them out seems to be flawed.

 

Pearce maintains that mainstream environmentalists are right that we need a rewilding of the earth but are wrong if they think it can be done by re-engineering ecosystems. Humans have changed the planet too much and in the case of our salt marshes, our “native species” evolved to accommodate an ecosystem created 4-5 thousand years ago before human intervention. In his travels and reporting, the author has found a growing group of scientists who are taking a fresh look at how species interact in the wild. According to these ecologists, we should applaud the “dynamism” of these aliens and the novel ecosystems they create.

 

In an era of climate change and widespread ecosystem damage, it is essential that humans find ways to help nature regenerate. To be an environmentalist in the 21st century may mean celebrating Nature's wildness and capacity for change. Nature always finds a way, and we may not be faced with an ecosystem populated by organisms of our choosing but what wins out may well be the best choice for the ecosystem we now have.

 

 

John Halloran is the Director of Science for GOMI and a member of the GOMI Guide Team. John’s interests focus on the ocean environment where he pursues educational adventure travel, research, and recreation by sail, paddle, and scuba.John is the founder and director of Adventure Learning, Newburyport, MA, which has been involved with educational outreach in area schools and recreational programs for teens and adults since 1980. A long-time educator, John was at the forefront of the experiential education movement in the U.S.For 36 years, he taught natural science in the Newburyport Public Schools. John has special interest and expertise in teacher training and standards for learning in math and science. His role has included direct teaching, teacher training, program development, grant writing, and developing partnerships with professionals in the field.

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