Half-Baked Ideas: Humans as an Invasive Species

The great thing about being spottily ignorant is that you can come up with "new ideas" that are maybe not strictly "new" or even "ideas" but you can still feel pretty proud of yourself.

Here is how this occurred to me: Some news story or other was talking about perch, or carp, or some invasive species of fish that is now breeding in the Great Lakes, which is apparently a giant bummer. Ah, here it is. At any rate, people are quite upset about it, because I guess even if the carp were here before, the fact that they can breed is seen as the beginning of the end.

Which made me think of how the other animals must think about humans. OK, I realize that there are a lot of problems with that statement, mostly centered around "how other animals must think about humans." Animals thinking? If they do think, are they really thinking about us?

But given my human-centric position, I was just struck by how bummed they must be, or must have been, when we started getting so out of control. Dolphins seeing people on boats, polar bears seeing inuits having babies, all of them confronted by ever more humans, "Oh man! Humans! And now they're breeding! In this previously unspoiled environment!" It just made me think that we humans are the ultimate invasive species, taking over new areas and destroying the homes of the old inhabitants, making them our own. And then getting upset about the Asian Carp.

Getting upset about the Asian Carp is probably reasonable, for all I know. Maybe the Asian Carp, introduced (no doubt) by humans, will make life even worse. But still it just sort of struck me that we are the very model of invasive species, way more than kudzu even.

So there you go: One more way to view yourself. That was what you were looking for today, right?

4 thoughts on “Half-Baked Ideas: Humans as an Invasive Species

  1. “Humans as invasive species” is an interesting concept and one that comes up time and time again in the realm of invasive species management. It is a great moot question because it gets at some key ideas: how do we define invasive species; what makes a species invasive; why do we as a society exempt some species from this definition (eg. feral cats vs feral pigs); why do we manage invasive species (or their impacts) in the first place; what resources do we protect and why?
    Unfortunately, your initial question is often brought up by politicians and others who would like to (for example) not spend money preventing new invasive species problems or who are worried that opening the proverbial flood-gate for invasive species management will somehow lead to even more prescriptive regulations on humans (as invaders). When I hear these arguments I’m stymied because this use of the term “invasives species” seems to acknowledge that we, humans, are incredibly destructive to the resources we value but have so completely removed ourselves from the immediate ecological consequences that we need rules to keep us from continuing to mess things up (while said rules would be exactly what the person making the initial argument usually wants to avoid)…
    Here in the US we’ve officially defined invasive species under an Executive Order (13112) passed by President Clinton: ‘‘Invasive species’’ means an alien species [that is – one not native to a given ecosystem, and introduced by human-aided transport] whose introduction does
    or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human
    So, with the exception of the “human-aided transport” part we fit the bill pretty well. But that doesn’t get us to the part of the discussion where we care about invasive species impacts. Rough economic estimates put the economic costs of invasive species in the billions of dollars per year in the US alone. Ecological impacts can be harder to quantify but there are some stark examples: the brown tree snake has extirpated 9 of 11 forest dwelling bird species on the island of Guam, the Guam flycatcher and the Rufous fantail are now extinct, as is the little Marianas fruit bat. As a result of the loss of so many insect eating species, spiders have taken over the forests with populations estimated to have increased by up to 40 times their original populations.
    Asian carp (which actually refers to four different species of carp but excludes others like goldfish and the common carp) both intentionally stocked (legally and illegally), and escaped from aquaculture facilities. Although all Asian carp have negative impacts it is silver carp that have caused the biggest uproar (and you really need to youtube silver carp to better understand this!) because they can reach 50lbs and leap out of the water when startled by loud noises/vibrations such as boat motors – which gets to the human harm portion of the definition above…
    But there are lots of other invasive species issues out there (can you tell yet that this is my job?) and I’m going to try for a children’s lit tie-in here: one of the best messages for kids is “don’t release (or “free”) pets into the wild.” I can come up with ump-teen examples of releasing pets into the wild in movies and TV and, although none come to mind, I’m sure there must be examples of “freeing” goldfish, turtles, bunnies, etc. in children’s literature.
    Anyhoo – great question – super complicated answers (that are always evolving…)


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