Sunshine Recorder


Don’t Judge Species On Their Origins
The concept of nativeness was first outlined by the English botanist John Henslow in 1835. By the late 1840s, botanists had adapted the terms native and alien from common law to help them distinguish those plants that composed a ‘true’ British flora from artefacts.
Over the next century, many botanists and a few zoologists described and studied introduced species without being aware that others were doing the same. By the time the British ecologist Charles Elton wrote his famous 1958 book The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants, some 40 scientists had published descriptions of non-natives, but no consensus had been reached on the desirability of intervening when alien species were introduced.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that ‘invasion biology’ became a discipline in its own right. By this point, partly fuelled by Elton’s book, proponents of biodiversity preservation and ecological restoration commonly used military metaphors and exaggerated claims of impending harm to help convey the message that introduced species are the enemies of man and nature.
Certainly, some species introduced by humans have driven extinctions and undermined important ecological services such as clean water and timber resources. In Hawaii, for instance, avian malaria—probably introduced in the early 1900s when European settlers brought in song and game birds—has killed off more than half of the islands’ native bird species. Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha), originally native to the lakes of southeast Russia and accidentally introduced to North America in the late 1980s, have cost the US power industry and water utilities hundreds of millions (some say billions) of dollars in damage by clogging water pipes. 
But many of the claims driving people’s perception that introduced species pose an apocalyptic threat to biodiversity are not backed by data. Take the conclusion made in a 1998 paper that invaders are the second-greatest threat to the survival of threatened or endangered species after habitat destruction. Little of the information used to support this claim involved data, as the original authors were careful to point out. Indeed, recent analyses suggest that invaders do not represent a major extinction threat to most species in most environments—predators and pathogens on islands and in lakes being the main exception. In fact, the introduction of non-native species has almost always increased the number of species in a region. 
The effects of non-native species may vary with time, and species that are not causing harm now might do so in the future. But the same is true of natives, particularly in rapidly changing environments. 




Nativeness is not a sign of evolutionary fitness or of a species having positive effects. The insect currently suspected to be killing more trees than any other in North America is the native mountain pine beetle Dendroc- tonus ponderosae. Classifying biota accord- ing to their adherence to cultural standards of belonging, citizenship, fair play and morality does not advance our understand- ing of ecology. Over the past few decades, this perspective has led many conservation and restoration efforts down paths that make little ecological or economic sense. 

Don’t Judge Species On Their Origins

The concept of nativeness was first outlined by the English botanist John Henslow in 1835. By the late 1840s, botanists had adapted the terms native and alien from common law to help them distinguish those plants that composed a ‘true’ British flora from artefacts.

Over the next century, many botanists and a few zoologists described and studied introduced species without being aware that others were doing the same. By the time the British ecologist Charles Elton wrote his famous 1958 book The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants, some 40 scientists had published descriptions of non-natives, but no consensus had been reached on the desirability of intervening when alien species were introduced.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that ‘invasion biology’ became a discipline in its own right. By this point, partly fuelled by Elton’s book, proponents of biodiversity preservation and ecological restoration commonly used military metaphors and exaggerated claims of impending harm to help convey the message that introduced species are the enemies of man and nature.

Certainly, some species introduced by humans have driven extinctions and undermined important ecological services such as clean water and timber resources. In Hawaii, for instance, avian malaria—probably introduced in the early 1900s when European settlers brought in song and game birds—has killed off more than half of the islands’ native bird species. Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha), originally native to the lakes of southeast Russia and accidentally introduced to North America in the late 1980s, have cost the US power industry and water utilities hundreds of millions (some say billions) of dollars in damage by clogging water pipes.

But many of the claims driving people’s perception that introduced species pose an apocalyptic threat to biodiversity are not backed by data. Take the conclusion made in a 1998 paper that invaders are the second-greatest threat to the survival of threatened or endangered species after habitat destruction. Little of the information used to support this claim involved data, as the original authors were careful to point out. Indeed, recent analyses suggest that invaders do not represent a major extinction threat to most species in most environments—predators and pathogens on islands and in lakes being the main exception. In fact, the introduction of non-native species has almost always increased the number of species in a region.

The effects of non-native species may vary with time, and species that are not causing harm now might do so in the future. But the same is true of natives, particularly in rapidly changing environments. 

Nativeness is not a sign of evolutionary fitness or of a species having positive effects. The insect currently suspected to be killing more trees than any other in North America is the native mountain pine beetle Dendroc- tonus ponderosae. Classifying biota accord- ing to their adherence to cultural standards of belonging, citizenship, fair play and morality does not advance our understand- ing of ecology. Over the past few decades, this perspective has led many conservation and restoration efforts down paths that make little ecological or economic sense. 

Link: In Defense of Difference

This past January, at the St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska, friends and relatives gathered to bid their last farewell to Marie Smith Jones, a beloved matriarch of her community. At 89 years old, she was the last fluent speaker of the Eyak language. In May 2007 a cavalry of the Janjaweed — the notorious Sudanese militia responsible for the ongoing genocide of the indigenous people of Darfur — made its way across the border into neighboring Chad. They were hunting for 1.5 tons of confiscated ivory, worth nearly $1.5 million, locked in a storeroom in Zakouma National Park. Around the same time, a wave of mysterious frog disappearances that had been confounding herpetologists worldwide spread to the US Pacific Northwest. It was soon discovered that Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a deadly fungus native to southern Africa, had found its way via such routes as the overseas trade in frog’s legs to Central America, South America, Australia, and now the United States. One year later, food riots broke out across the island nation of Haiti, leaving at least five people dead; as food prices soared, similar violence erupted in Mexico, Bangladesh, Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ethiopia.

All these seemingly disconnected events are the symptoms, you could say, of a global epidemic of sameness. It has no precise parameters, but wherever its shadow falls, it leaves the landscape monochromatic, monocultural, and homogeneous. Even before we’ve been able to take stock of the enormous diversity that today exists — from undescribed microbes to undocumented tongues — this epidemic carries away an entire human language every two weeks, destroys a domesticated food-crop variety every six hours, and kills off an entire species every few minutes. The fallout isn’t merely an assault to our aesthetic or even ethical values: As cultures and languages vanish, along with them go vast and ancient storehouses of accumulated knowledge. And as species disappear, along with them go not just valuable genetic resources, but critical links in complex ecological webs.

Experts have long recognized the perils of biological and cultural extinctions. But they’ve only just begun to see them as different facets of the same phenomenon, and to tease out the myriad ways in which social and natural systems interact. Catalyzed in part by the urgency that climate change has brought to all matters environmental, two progressive movements, incubating already for decades, have recently emerged into fuller view. Joining natural and social scientists from a wide range of disciplines and policy arenas, these initiatives are today working to connect the dots between ethnosphere and biosphere in a way that is rapidly leaving behind old unilateral approaches to conservation. Efforts to stanch extinctions of linguistic, cultural, and biological life have yielded a “biocultural” perspective that integrates the three. Efforts to understand the value of diversity in a complex systems framework have matured into a science of “resilience.” On parallel paths, though with different emphases, different lexicons, and only slightly overlapping clouds of experts, these emergent paradigms have created space for a fresh struggle with the tough questions: What kinds of diversity must we consider, and how do we measure them on local, regional, and global scales? Can diversity be buffered against the streamlining pressures of economic growth? How much diversity is enough? From a recent biocultural diversity symposium in New York City to the first ever global discussion of resilience in Stockholm, these burgeoning movements are joining biologist with anthropologist, scientist with storyteller, in building a new framework to describe how, why, and what to sustain.

(Source: sunrec, via sunrec)

In Seeds We Trust

Because science won’t save us if biodiversity fails, a global effort is underway to collect and cache the genetic resources contained in seeds.

By now you’ve probably heard about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. While it was under construction, and then as it opened in February 2008, the media couldn’t get enough of the “Doomsday” seed bank. We learned that the bomb-proof concrete bunker was encased in permafrost, 130 meters-deep inside the sandstone of a Norwegian mountain. It would store copies of seeds currently housed in the more than 1,400 gene banks worldwide, so that should calamity strike any of those gene banks, Svalbard’s seeds would save the collections—and thus humanity—from the jaws of famine.

Maybe it was the nickname “Doomsday” vault. Or maybe it was the remote location, north of the Arctic Circle where no trees grow. Whatever the reason, people have tended to associate Svalbard with some catastrophic scenario—one unlucky summer when locusts tear across the Midwest, an airborne fungus rains over Africa, and China’s soybeans succumb to asteroid strike or nuclear war. But Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust and intellectual father of the Svalbard Seed Vault, believes that apocalypse has already crept on us. “By the end of the century, average temperatures during growing seasons in many regions will probably be higher than the very hottest temperatures now,” he says, citing a recent paper in Science. “By 2030, we could see a 30 percent drop in maize production in Southern Africa; 2030 is only two crop generations away. We’re not talking about some time in the distant future when we all expect to be dead. We certainly can’t wake up in 2029 and decide to do something.” The millions of seed samples in gene banks worldwide will be invaluable for plant geneticists and breeders looking for new traits to develop the crops of 2030, Fowler says.

Those national and international banks, however, are vulnerable to floods, fires, earthquakes, and other natural hazards, as well as war and civil strife. Surprisingly, the most pervasive danger is plain old poor maintenance. “Conditions are pretty dismal in many of these places,” said Fowler. “Most seed banks simply don’t have the resources or manpower to maintain their stocks.” Once a sample falls below an 85 percent germination rate, the genes within those seeds are in danger of being lost forever. Fowler estimates that 50 percent of the world’s seed stores currently fail the test.

Article / Slideshow

Link: The Biodiversity Crisis: Worse than Climate Change

Biodiversity is declining rapidly throughout the world. The challenges of conserving the world’s species are perhaps even larger than mitigating the negative effects of global climate change. Dealing with the biodiversity crisis requires political will and needs to be based on a solid scientific knowledge if we are to ensure a safe future for the planet. This is the main conclusion from scientists from University of Copenhagen, after 100 researchers and policy experts from EU countries were gathered this week at the University of Copenhagen to discuss how to organise the future UN Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES - an equivalent to the UN panel on climate change (IPCC).

Species extinction and the degradation of ecosystems are proceeding rapidly and the pace is accelerating. The world is losing species at a rate that is 100 to 1000 times faster than the natural extinction rate.

Mass extinctions of species have occurred five times previously in the history of the world – last time was 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs and many other species disappeared. Previous periods of mass extinction and ecosystem change were driven by global changes in climate and in atmospheric chemistry, impacts by asteroids and volcanism. Now we are in the 6th mass extinction event, which is a result of a competition for resources between one species on the planet – humans – and all others. The process towards extinction is mainly caused by habitat degradation, whose effect on biodiversity is worsened by the ongoing human-induced climate change. 

"The biodiversity crisis – i.e. the rapid loss of species and the rapid degradation of ecosystems – is probably a greater threat than global climate change to the stability and prosperous future of mankind on Earth. There is a need for scientists, politicians and government authorities to closely collaborate if we are to solve this crisis. This makes the need to establish IPBES very urgent, which may happen at a UN meeting in Panama City in April," says professor Carsten Rahbek, Director for the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, University of Copenhagen.

Link: In Defense of Difference

This past January, at the St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska, friends and relatives gathered to bid their last farewell to Marie Smith Jones, a beloved matriarch of her community. At 89 years old, she was the last fluent speaker of the Eyak language. In May 2007 a cavalry of the Janjaweed — the notorious Sudanese militia responsible for the ongoing genocide of the indigenous people of Darfur — made its way across the border into neighboring Chad. They were hunting for 1.5 tons of confiscated ivory, worth nearly $1.5 million, locked in a storeroom in Zakouma National Park. Around the same time, a wave of mysterious frog disappearances that had been confounding herpetologists worldwide spread to the US Pacific Northwest. It was soon discovered that Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a deadly fungus native to southern Africa, had found its way via such routes as the overseas trade in frog’s legs to Central America, South America, Australia, and now the United States. One year later, food riots broke out across the island nation of Haiti, leaving at least five people dead; as food prices soared, similar violence erupted in Mexico, Bangladesh, Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ethiopia.

All these seemingly disconnected events are the symptoms, you could say, of a global epidemic of sameness. It has no precise parameters, but wherever its shadow falls, it leaves the landscape monochromatic, monocultural, and homogeneous. Even before we’ve been able to take stock of the enormous diversity that today exists — from undescribed microbes to undocumented tongues — this epidemic carries away an entire human language every two weeks, destroys a domesticated food-crop variety every six hours, and kills off an entire species every few minutes. The fallout isn’t merely an assault to our aesthetic or even ethical values: As cultures and languages vanish, along with them go vast and ancient storehouses of accumulated knowledge. And as species disappear, along with them go not just valuable genetic resources, but critical links in complex ecological webs.

(Source: sunrec)

Link: In Defense of Difference

This past January, at the St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska, friends and relatives gathered to bid their last farewell to Marie Smith Jones, a beloved matriarch of her community. At 89 years old, she was the last fluent speaker of the Eyak language. In May 2007 a cavalry of the Janjaweed — the notorious Sudanese militia responsible for the ongoing genocide of the indigenous people of Darfur — made its way across the border into neighboring Chad. They were hunting for 1.5 tons of confiscated ivory, worth nearly $1.5 million, locked in a storeroom in Zakouma National Park. Around the same time, a wave of mysterious frog disappearances that had been confounding herpetologists worldwide spread to the US Pacific Northwest. It was soon discovered that Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a deadly fungus native to southern Africa, had found its way via such routes as the overseas trade in frog’s legs to Central America, South America, Australia, and now the United States. One year later, food riots broke out across the island nation of Haiti, leaving at least five people dead; as food prices soared, similar violence erupted in Mexico, Bangladesh, Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ethiopia.

All these seemingly disconnected events are the symptoms, you could say, of a global epidemic of sameness. It has no precise parameters, but wherever its shadow falls, it leaves the landscape monochromatic, monocultural, and homogeneous. Even before we’ve been able to take stock of the enormous diversity that today exists — from undescribed microbes to undocumented tongues — this epidemic carries away an entire human language every two weeks, destroys a domesticated food-crop variety every six hours, and kills off an entire species every few minutes. The fallout isn’t merely an assault to our aesthetic or even ethical values: As cultures and languages vanish, along with them go vast and ancient storehouses of accumulated knowledge. And as species disappear, along with them go not just valuable genetic resources, but critical links in complex ecological webs.