Alien species in your backyard

On Friday September 26, I attempted to the seminar “Global swarming” presented by Antonio Ricciardi. With various examples, Ricciardi demonstrated that species invasions are one of the most important global changes that we are experiencing at the moment. He also insisted on the fact that these modern invasions are happening at such a large scale and so rapidly that what happened in the past in nothing compared to the modern rates of biological invasions.

What really catches my attention is the choice of vocabulary that the speaker used during his presentation, starting with the title itself (global swarming). In his introduction, he used the terms “monsters” and “ecological terrorists” to designate the invaders he was going to talk about. Than, he mentioned that the example he was to give during the talk were not “insulated monster stories”, that alien species were present in almost all ecosystems worldwide. Some species like the pig were compared as “little engineer” transforming the habitat and at the end of the speech, he told us that those alien species were a “tax” on natural resources.

At the end of the presentation, in response to a question, Ricciardi made the strong assumption that the human kind is probably the worst invasive specie of the world. After all, we are all invaders outside of Africa! To support this idea, he brought up the fact that we are present in almost every ecosystem and that we are definitely the best when comes the time to transform our environment. This idea was, again, a very powerful way to insist on the role that human plays in spreading alien species all over the place.

All those superlatives were very catchy, and it surely was a great way to increase the auditor’s awareness of that special issue. I was wondering if this effort was necessary; do you need to sound alarmist to convince people? Perhaps! But it made a strong contrast with the more neutral tone used in the article Are Modern Biological Invasions an Unprecedented Form of Global Change?“.

3 Responses to “Alien species in your backyard”

  1. shorty says:

    In my opinion, global swarming didn’t come off so much as sounding alarming but rather energetic on what he was presenting. I think I recall it being mentioned that the information presented was not to come across as good or bad, but just to annouce the facts on what was happening. I also find it amazing at some of the different ways invasive species can come across continents, not just intentionally but unintentionally (clothing, ballast water, stowaways). And he didn’t only concentrate on visible invasive species but classified bacteria and viruses as foreign invaders as well. It’s mind boggling, all the things we have to watch out for when considering alien species crossing geographical and climatic boundaries.

  2. sieber says:

    It’s an important question, though. I think that people may assume you’re alarmist i you carry the label environmental scientist. Does that make you more cautious in your scientific pronouncements (i.e., I must appear dispassionate else someone thinks I’m an activist)? Or does it make you feel that you have a special responsibility to “get the word out” about significant environmental problems?

  3. shorty says:

    I guess the fear of coming off as alarmist does encourage people to be more conservative with their proclamations. On the one hand you don’t want people to think you are inflating the facts just for the sake of action. You don’t want to cause a panic paralysis. However if your argument comes across as anecdotal, if there is a problem to address it appears more trivial, and there’s less drive to consider 1) whether action should be taken, or 2) to what degree should action be taken. There should be a balance between the two to achieve the goal of getting people to think about material presented, not necessarily to act or not to act.

    However, if it is decided by a considerable amount of people (how many is debatable) that action should be taken, there should be a non-static process of policy making. It is at this point that we move forward instead of recirculating the facts.