I appreciated your articles on 'invasive' species, natives and desertification from the "Botany and Ecology" section on your website (http://www.elpel.info/Thomas_J_Elpel/Articles.htm). It reminds me that the landscape is complex and rich amoungst the natives, exotics, invasives, non-natives, weeds, crops,... The language to accompany such edges will correspondingly have to be expanded, developed, re-membered and rekindled. One way of doing this is ( I am specifically thinking of plants) is by looking at different nomenclature systems, cultures or worldviews to understand this richness which awaits our conscious interaction. Dave Jacke says something like the mindful role of the intervenor. Brock Dolman says we need to be regenerative disturbers. Stephen Harrod Buhner, in his bbok The Lost Language of Plants, looks at different systems or worldviews to try to understand plants, as well as life in general, and his conversaton, as broadly painted, switches between universe-as-machine and living/sacred epistemologies.
From a review of one of your books some time back in the Permaculture Activist magazine, I became interested in the methods you propose to learn to identify plants and how this fits together with species and families. I wish to know the patterns and be able to use the trivium method to understand plants and the relationships between them, especially for understanding where and how we sit in the anthropocene cultivated landscapes of today--so as to mindfully and productively interact with them. Another example that shows the value of understanding a more ample and zoomed out perspective is the suggestion by Kyle Chamberlain--in one of his articles from a recent Permaculture Activist article--where he suggests that we plant our gardens and food forests with a consideration for great diversity of plants taken from numerous families as opposed to ones within one family (think of the simplicity and vulnerabilty of an orchard compared to that of a forest garden).
Might you tell us of something new or which has culturally shifted of late within the topic & conversation on invasive, native, exotic, weed...
Thanks for what you have written and shared. I am looking forward to one day gaining some new capacities at understanding plants from your book which in turn will help my interactions with the larger living landscape*.
* Check out Patrick Whitefield's excellent book with the same title, The Living Landscape: How To Read and Understand It (Permanent Publications, UK).
Thanks for the thoughtful note and the book recommendation. Ecology is so complex that black-and-white answers are only right by being mostly wrong.
On the subject of introduced and invasive species, many introduced species add wonderful diversity to the landscape, such as plantain (Plantago major). What a wonderful and useful, yet thankfully not invasive plant! I just learned this week that wild turkeys are not native here in Montana, but were introduced by wildlife biologists to encourage new hunting opportunities. I love seeing wild turkeys!
Then there are plants like spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), which has taken over millions of acres in Montana and pushed out many native species. The usual treatments for it include grazing with sheep or goats or spraying with herbicides. However, knapweed thrives in neglected ecosystems where the soil is already dying from lack of concentrated animal impact. Theoretically, recreating the movements of the buffalo (with wild or domestic stock) can stimulate succession and invigorate other plants to compete with knapweed. Knapweed was introduced to my watershed principally through mining and other major soil disturbance and is now approaching the critical threshold where it is too thoroughly embedded in the ecosystem for pulling or spraying to have any permanent effect. Therefore, we need to look at alternatives such as bringing in a herd of sheep or goats, or stimulating succession with other livestock, such as cows:
I appreciated your reply though my question was more about whether some additional tools or language has been developed which more richly details and more neutrally expresses ways to understand and communicate around the topic of natives, exotics, invasives. I find this would be an extremely helpful tool for our designs, work, learning and, especially, for our communication with others.
Regarding communication with others, I have in recent years learned about the trivium* method and would like to find ways of applying it to the invasives conversation. This is partly why I am asking you whether you have run across the sort of information mentioned in the first paragraph or are working on creating something like this yourself. As I don't believe much of this has been put together, at least in a publicly accessible form, anything like a summary, notes, index or bibliography would be helpful. But maybe I am realizing that this list that I have been hap-hazardly putting together all along could be of use to change the conversation, and so I have shared a small part of it below.
My interest in this topic is pushed by realizing that going after the non-natives--those arbitrarily-defined species of 'elsewhere'--is not the answer. It is an illusion and another example of the extension and morphing of the war machine, which is bent on attacking or blaming the other. We do not need to continue the war. One important tool within the trivium method's toolbox with which they suggest one (adult) learn and start practicing is with the logical fallacies. Upon careful examination, some of the reasons given for attacking invasives with chemicals or for implementing other such supporting policies, employ the use of these logical fallacies.
As I find more snippets to learn from, I deepen my fascination and continue to delve into and push outwards this material which is not all that clearly defined nor obvious. I imagine your book on botany sort of provides the trivium for/of botany and plant identification. Moving in the same constructive and positive approach, I endeavor to find and continue building this trivium of invasives, exotics and natives.
What follows in the next paragraphs are examples, as well as a partial index, of what I have found which provide new tools and a richer language to further the multifaceted conversation on, and interaction with, natives, invasives, exotics, weeds, non-natives, invasion biology,... I do not claim the list to be exhaustive nor objective. I provide it here for curiosity and, as always, it is up to oneself to come to terms and check its validity). To let you know, unless otherwise specified, I tend to examine through the lens of plants. Also, if there are no references, the idea may come from Dave Jacke's (and Eric Toensmeier) book, Edible Forest Gardens.
Since then, I discovered that an excellent alternative has been offered: “A neutral terminology to define ‘invasive’ species”, by Robert I. Colautti and Hugh J. MacIsaac, published by the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor in Ontario [link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1366-9516.2004.00061.x/pdf]. Leave it to Canadians to be more nuanced than their southern neighbors! Colautti and MacIsaac observed that “the use of simple terms to articulate ecological concepts can confuse ideological debates and undermine management efforts” and that “subconscious associations with preconceived terms, particularly emotive ones, can also lead to divergent interpretations and a confusion of concepts and theory”. No kidding! In place of a single word such as “invasive”, Colautti and MacIsaac put forward a system that is biogeographical (place-based) rather then taxonomic (species-based). The system describes possible stages of a new species entering an area. As summarized on Wikipedia, these stages are: I. Traveling, II. Introduced, III. Localized and numerically rare, IVa. Widespread but rare, IVb. Localized but dominant, V. Widespread and dominant. The single Holly tree in the front yard in Portland was at stage III: “Localized and numerically rare”. Corn in the Midwest, European trees in New England, and cattle in Eastern Oregon, by contrast, are at stage V: “Widespread and dominant”. This system can also be used to describe native plants. The conifers being decimated by Bark Beetles are passing from stage V. to stage IVa; from “Widespread and dominant” to “Widespread but rare”, and could soon be at stage III: “Localized and numerically rare”.
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Invasion is actually a term used in the science of ecology and is based more on vegetation dynamics (if we are talking plants) or successional change.
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On CBC Radio's Ideas program, I came across an episode called “Bioinvasion: Attack of the alien species!”. Some things of interest from this are about the origins and definition of “invasive”. Charles Elton (1950s), is one of the fathers of invasion biology who militarized this term. Although I have not looked at it myself, I found a reference to the “Encyclopedia of Biological Invasions”, a work edited by Daniel Simberloff, who was one of the many people interviewed.
http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2014/04/01/bioinvasion-attack-of-the-alien-species/ - - - - - - - - - -
Let us ask more specifics such as during what time period and to what area is a species native?
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I invite you to examine the work of David Holmgren (co-originator of permaculture), especially his topics of novel ecosystems and ecosynthesis, which are very relevant to this shape-shifting kind of discussion on natives. One place to start is his book “Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability”. He also has a great article called “Weeds Or Wild Nature”, with several editions so far, which is working itself into a book, maybe to be soon released.
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“There currently exists an enormously rich literature of succession ecology that is being virtually ignored by many researchers studying invasions.”
–M. A. Davis, K. Thompson, and J. P. Grime. Charles S. Elton and the Dissociation of Invasion Biology from the Rest of Ecology.
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differential species availability
increased resource availability
unified oldfield theory
Thanks a lot for donating your book to Permies.com. I got mine today and like the approach or methodology and see that it is a sizeable tome which has had plenty of discipline, thought and focus put into it's creation and constant updating. The work before me is great, but now I feel I can be better prepared with this novel and ingenious way of relating and understanding plants.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the note, dedication to Frank Cook at the beginning of your book. The one thing I knew about him was the article he wrote in the Permaculture Activist several years back called Listen to the Weeds' Stories. One thing that I liked about this article was the commonality and cosmopolitan nature of weeds, herbs, foods, teas,... which one can find all over the world and which Frank was suggesting we comune with. I can attest to this with my experiences in the Chaco bioregion--mostly in Santiago del Estero, Argentina. There were many plants and herbs which were already known to me, as well as plenty of new ones of which I was able to integrate many plants of that climate new and foreign to me into medicines, teas, foods. This hybrid made it all the more interesting and sometimes made me forget where I really was. I also see and use these plants anew now that I am back in my originary temperate norther climate home. I feel your book works in this same way that Frank's article did, as it shows the relationships, patterns and similarities or features to help in our understanding and use of plants. I now remember that Frank worked extensively with you on your book.
I appreciate your contribution towards a fuller world. Thanks.
Thanks for your detailed response. Your note brings to mind the term "noxious weeds," which is even more emotive and judgmental than "invasive species." That was the terminology I learned when I started getting involved in "weed" issues, and I later purged that term and adopted "invasive," at least for those species that appear to dominate certain ecosystems. I think that the term "introduced plants" is a nice, non-judgmental term to refer to nonnative species, although it does help to distinguish between those that integrate well and those that seem to alter ecosystems.
Interestingly, as I understand it, bison, elk, deer, moose, grizzlies, black bears, and caribou were originally Eurasian species that came across the Bering Land Bridge, making them "invasive" species, not natives. Thus, in the long view, whatever grows here will be "native" some day. At the very least, they are not going away.
Exploring some related, somewhat random thoughts, I also think it is important to look at the issue from the another side. For example, we (Non-Native Americans) are an invasive species (well, race), and we are also not going away. Directly or indirectly, we eliminated ninety percent or more of the native population in North and South America. We are new here and still trying to figure out how to become native to this place. Part of our own process of learning to connect with our new home is figuring out how to relate to it ecologically. Do we embrace native species or do we import those we are ancestrally connected with? Can we declare our interest in permaculture as unbiased, or is it a fundamental part of our European heritage to tinker with ecosystems, import useful species, and make a property "better" and more productive? Sadly, the invasion of the Americas hasn't yet come to a close. Pretty much any ecosystem that has been altered by our imported culture, such as any place with a road plowed through it, becomes susceptible to the invasion of the Old World species. I am old enough (almost 47) to have seen many landscapes rewritten by green soldiers from the Old World. In many cases, the result is the same as our own invasion, with ninety percent or more of the natives wiped out and replaced by introduced species.
In my book Living Homes I included a pretty good rant telling people not to seek out that pristine and remote parcel. Plowing in a road and building a house horridly fragments the ecosystem, contributes to habitat loss, and invites invasives into fresh territory. It really annoys me when people ignore that and bulldoze Eden to build their house! On my own five-acre homestead on the edge of town, I am attempting to be ecologically aware and responsible, and I am also noticing that my presence here, as an "introduced species" greatly faciliates habitation of other introduced species. We Westerners and our plants seem to be a package deal!