At invasivore.org, we advocate making the best of a bad situation- when life gives you a lemon invasion, make invasive lemonade. But a recent Science article describes an environmental management strategy in the Galápagos that may be taking this approach to the extreme.
The Galápagos Islands represent one of the world’s true biodiversity gems, making a recent Science article by Gaia Vince all the more troubling. Vince begins with a description of classic Galapagos icons- a creeping tortoise and chattering finches- but quickly notes that these and other native species are being choked out by nonnative species and agriculture. Mark Gardener, the head of restoration at the Charles Darwin Research Station is introduced with a troubling quote, “Galápagos will never [again] be pristine. It’s time to embrace the aliens.” The article goes on to describe how efforts to eradicate the incredible number of introduced species in the Galápagos (nearly 900 introduced plants alone!) have largely failed, leading a group of “maverick” ecologists to advocate accepting “benign” invaders and celebrating the “novel ecosystems” they produce.
While this certainly provides some interesting food for thought, at invasivore.org we can’t help but be a little nervous about a conservation strategy that actually celebrates invasions. Although there appear to be examples of benign invaders- the article notes banana as one such species in the Galápagos – lag times between the introduction of a species, its detection, and the manifestation of impacts are important considerations in the management of invasive species, not to mention that a conservation strategy that celebrates “novel ecosystems” could lead some to take a permissive or even proactive stance toward biological invasions. This is particularly unfortunate, because as we’ve discussed before, prevention of invasions is generally more cost-effective and likely to succeed than trying to eradicate or control established invasions.
That is why we’ve emphasized awareness and prevention as our primary goals here at invasivore.org, and we only encourage the harvest of invasive species to make the best of a bad situation. But we’d like to know what you think about this maverick conservation strategy. Are “novel ecosystems” something to celebrate? When can we let our guard down against “benign” invaders? And how do you feel about this experiment in ecosystem management occurring in the Galápagos? Let us know in the comments section- we look forward to hearing your thoughts!