To be the best gardeners we can be we need to challenge our own assumptions from time to time. Recently, I have been doing just that by reading Emma Marris’ book Rambunctious Garden – Saving Nature in a Post Wild World.
In this book, Marris questions the practicality and even the validity of trying to restore our ecosystems to some “pristine” state. Specifically, she challenges those who see the North American landscape as it existed before contact with European colonists as some kind of ideal to be recreated if at all possible. In this Marris runs counter to the main current of contemporary ecological restoration.
Marris doesn’t offer up just opinions. She is a writer for a leading scientific journal, Nature, and is conversant with the latest ecological research (or at least, the latest as of the publication of her book in 2011). Her book is heavily footnoted and includes a 12 ½ page bibliography.
She makes a strong case for re-evaluating our blanket condemnation of exotic species, citing studies that have found that sometimes the introduction of an exotic species into an ecosystem can actually benefit natives, such as the exotic birds that have taken on the job of indigenous seed dispersal in Hawaii. And she questions whether, in the face of global warming and a worldwide ecological disturbance, a situation that essentially turns the whole planet into a novel ecosystem, whether stirring the pot genetically may not be essential. “Indeed,” she writes, “as the planet warms and adapts to human domination, it is the exotic species of the world that are busy moving, evolving, and forming new ecological relationships. The despised invaders of today may well be the keystone species of the future’s ecosystems.”
Maybe, maybe not. In any event. it’s worth considering whether we nativists have grown too dogmatic.
I once attended a symposium, for example, where a representative of the National Park Service urged us New Englanders to purge our landscape of every plant species that was not here when Columbus landed in the Bahamas (the introduced animals, presumably, including huge numbers of exotic Homo sapiens, were to escape this massacre). Given the transformation of the landscape that has occurred in the centuries since 1492, to do this is, of course, utterly impossible. What’s more, as Marris points out in her book, this impulse toward genetic cleansing denigrates the functioning hybrid ecosystems that have arisen over the last 400 years. If we truly want to maximize biodiversity and ecosystem services in a period of rapid, unprecedented change, I believe we will have to be pragmatic above all else.
Read Emma Marris’ book. It may make you angry, but I guarantee it will make you think.Posted by Thomas Christopher on March 6, 2017 at 7:53 am, in the category Gardening on the Planet, Science Says.