By Priscilla Hutt Williams
The story of animal, insect and plant invaders is as old as the world itself. When humankind first began to roam, these beings tagged along. In strange new lands, the human instinct to collect unique specimens was born. So bits and pieces of non-natives came back with them – if indeed, these peoples ever returned to their points of origin.
From the tea-horse trade route in ancient Tibet to the Silk Road trade across Asia, Russia, Arabia and Africa into Europe, humans have moved about in search of economic opportunity. Certain plants and animals have been successfully raised far from their native regions when there were similarities in soil and climate: cotton, indigo, tobacco, rice, silk and wool come to mind along with all our domesticated animals. Other peoples moved to find religious freedom, escape tyrannical regimes, or just to have more living space. Whether intentionally or inadvertently, plants, animals and insects came with them.
By Jack Kittredge
I would like to agree with other requests to learn more about managing invasive plants. Julie’s comments (in a NOFA/Mass publication) make it clear that invasive weeds in a no-till garden are a problem, but a very different problem than going to war against a hillside of multi-flora rose entwined with bittersweet, buckthorn, and honeysuckle.
Landscaping classes recommend heavy equipment, but that gets costly very fast. We have 3 acres of pasture that had been allowed to go wild on rocky hillsides. We have spent years clearing the plants, but because of the rocks, the only way to maintain the hard work it is by weed-wacking acres twice a year. UGH! Suggestions would be most helpful!!
— Jan Johnson
PS We love The Natural Farmer. I save past issues for grandchildren, to jump-start their science research papers.
1539 Feral pigs, Sus scrofa, begin with the introduction of Spanish domestic stock in Florida by Hernando de Soto; whether the release was accidental or intentional is unknown.
1600s Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris, native to Europe and Asia, one of the first trees introduced by early European colonists, perhaps as windbreaks, erosion control, and a source of herbal medicine, lumber, and bedding: needles were used as a bedding known as “pine wool.”
— Purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, native to Europe and Asia, introduced in ballast and likely in livestock bedding, fodder, and perhaps even in sheep fur as soon as colonists began to arrive.
By the National Geographic Society
An invasive species is an organism that is not indigenous, or native, to a particular area. Invasive species can cause great economic and environmental harm to the new area.
Not all non-native species are invasive. For example, most of the food crops grown in the United States, including popular varieties of wheat, tomatoes, and rice, are not native to the region.
To be invasive, a species must adapt to the new area easily. It must reproduce quickly. It must harm property, the economy, or the native plants and animals of the region.
By Bryan O’Hara
There was a time, not so long ago, when weeds were just considered weeds. There were no “invasive” weeds. The concept of an invasion of weeds appears to be linked to the human separation from the lessons of nature. A weed is, of course, a plant which a human considers out of place. In nature there are no weeds, only plants covering the earth offering their unique benefits to the forces of life. Nature’s timeline is very, very long. From this perspective, nature can be seen to have little regard for the hurried demands of the human concerns of plants out of place. Weeds, or plants out of place, is a human perspective which is not consistent with nature’s perspective.
As farmers, we are concerned with plants out of place impacting our crops. With decades of experience in annual crop production, it has become very clear that such weeds are a signal from nature about how our agricultural practices are impacting the earth. In this sense the weeds become a mirror for the farmer to look into. Certain weeds can signal soil structure imbalances, some signal nutrient imbalance, some chemical contamination, and so on. When field conditions are well balanced and nature-benefitting agricultural approaches are taken, the farmer is rewarded with minimal weed “interference” and abundant, vigorous crops. Weeds invariably are of benefit to the agricultural field as they are well selected by nature to harness the sun’s energy and provide the benefits of this energy consolidation to the living organisms surrounding them. The weeds provide the soil with a physical cover as well, with all the associated benefits.
By United States Geological Survey
Climate change will have significant effects on the health of wildlife, domestic animals, and humans, according to scientists. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that unprecedented rates of climate change will result in increasing average global temperatures; rising sea levels; changing global precipitation patterns, including increasing amounts and variability; and increasing midcontinental summer drought. Increasing temperatures, combined with changes in rainfall and humidity, may have significant impacts on wildlife, domestic animal, and human health and diseases. When combined with expanding human populations, these changes could increase demand on limited water resources, lead to more habitat destruction, and provide yet more opportunities for infectious diseases to cross from one species to another.
Awareness has been growing in recent years about zoonotic diseases— that is, diseases that are transmissible between animals and humans, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus. The rise of such diseases results from closer relationships among wildlife, domestic animals, and people, allowing more contact with diseased animals, organisms that carry and transmit a disease from one animal to another (vectors), and people. Disease vectors include insects, such as mosquitoes, and arachnids, such as ticks. Thus, it is impossible to separate the effects of global warming on wildlife from its effects on the health of domestic animals or people.
By the National Wildlife Federation
“Invasive species”—they may not sound very threatening, but these invaders, large and small, have devastating effects on wildlife.
Invasive species are among the leading threats to native wildlife. Approximately 42 percent of threatened or endangered species are at risk due to invasive species. Human health and economies are also at risk from invasive species. The impacts of invasive species on our natural ecosystems and economy cost billions of dollars each year. Many of our commercial, agricultural, and recreational activities depend on healthy native ecosystems.
What Makes a Species “Invasive”?
An invasive species can be any kind of living organism—an amphibian (like the cane toad), plant, insect, fish, fungus, bacteria, or even an organism’s seeds or eggs—that is not native to an ecosystem and causes harm. They can harm the environment, the economy, or even human health. Species that grow and reproduce quickly, and spread aggressively, with potential to cause harm, are given the label “invasive.”
By Jono Neiger
“The discussion about native plants encompasses a remarkable mixture of sound biology, invalid ideas, false extensions, ethical implications, and political usages.”
Steven Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist, writer, Harvard University, Natural History Museum NYC
An Evolutionary Perspective on Strengths, Fallacies, and Confusions in the Concept of Native Plants. S.J. Gould. Arnoldia, Spring 1998. (Quarterly magazine of Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University)
“There is no biological criterion on which to judge a priori the smaller or greater value of one species against that of another.” Lugo, in Biodiversity, E.O. Wilson ed.
You walk through the wood edge of the local park, farm, or neighborhood trail. You see the rampant undergrowth of shrubs with spiny stems and small red berries. Many people have taken an instinctive reaction to these barberry bushes and liken them to invaders on the land that are harming the native species there.
By Heather McCargo
photos by Jean English
reprinted with permission from the Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener
Native plant corridors attract pollinators and wildlife to your farm by stretching across your property to connect your piece of native habitat to nearby meadows, wetlands or woodlands. This creates a much larger area for native pollinators to forage, raise young and migrate. Corridors may run along a road, between fields, in a swale or on the edge of a forest, connecting habitats off the property and returning native plants to the parts of the farm not suitable for traditional crops.
This article describes two approaches to creating native habitat corridors: changing mowing habits to favor native species, and planting woody and herbaceous combinations to increase native plant diversity on the farm.
Populations of all native species are in decline across the state. Our human footprint is taking its toll on wild creatures, including pollinators such as bees and butterflies that are so important on the farm for crop pollination. Native plant species each share an evolutionary history with indigenous insects, birds, reptiles, mammals, bacteria and fungi. When native plants are gone, many of these creatures go too, leading to a collapse of ecosystem function. Farmers benefit from the services provided by a healthy ecosystem, such as groundwater recharge; clean surface streams and ponds; pollination; a diversity of birds, spiders and amphibians to eat many insects including crop pests; and beneficial soil fungi and bacteria. Fortunately, when native plants are reintroduced into a landscape, many of these other creatures return.
By Mark Shepard
When I was asked to write an article on “invasive species”, my first reaction was to sigh and roll my eyes. (Notice that I’ve already placed the term “invasive species” in quotes… sigh!)
“I’m being baited”, I thought to myself. “Someone has a political agenda and is trying to get me to make someone angry”.
My inquisitor tried to reassure me that “No!” they did NOT have such an intention, but because of my ecological perspective and my 25+ years of experience in converting ecologically degraded sites (clear cuts, agricultural fields, sand mines, etc.) into ecologically designed food-producing systems, I “might have a perspective that others might find useful.”
Regardless as to which is more true, here we are. I agreed to write this article!
By Mike Bald
Stewardship = Presence… so I claimed four years ago in an article for the Ecological Landscape Alliance. With the passing of another 49 moons, with landscapes under ever more climate stress, and with continuing upward trends in pesticide usage, I wish to revisit that simple notion of Stewardship. I work in the world of invasive species, terrestrial plants more specifically, but everywhere I go, both in-country and abroad, I have asked others to clarify their understanding of land stewardship. While plenty of folks have touched on the idea of resource management, caretaking, and connection to nature, I was most deeply struck by two responses: “relationships” and “continuity.” Brilliant.
You may wonder why you’re finding an article on Stewardship in The Natural Farmer. Fair enough, but ask yourself a second question. Wouldn’t it be something if the spirit and principles of organic farming were applied to land management in general? To landscapes and resources everywhere? There are good teachings in the organic movement, as in the world of permaculture, but I submit that the spirit of good stewardship is important not just for our farms and pastures, but also for our woodlands, rivers, schools, our business organizations, and even our lovely backyards. Stewardship IS about relationships: to nature, to self, and to one another in diverse communities. Stewardship is also continuity, positive actions carrying through time and across generations.
By Jack Kittredge
I suspect I share the reactions of many TNF readers to this pandemic. Fortunately, Julie and I do not know anyone who has been seriously infected with the coronavirus, and our livelihoods are not impacted by the economic shutdown that so many have experienced. Farming has been declared essential and our work for NOFA was always done at home.
But this crisis has shown all of us that Nature has the final say. She has been a tolerant mother, generously giving us whatever of her treasures we asked for – despoiling her air, privatizing her water, mining her soil. But, never sated, we always pressed for more.
Now it seems that we may have transgressed too far, crowding our fellow living creatures into cages, pens and CAFOs for our consumption, raising them without sunlight or space or fresh air. In their misery they have succumbed to disease, allowing new contagions to thrive, evolve and finally escape out into our world.