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Invasional Meltdown
February 16, 2009 9:05 PM   Subscribe

What Invasive Species Are Trying to Tell Us. "Walking snakeheads, carnivorous snails, and the superpredator from the reef: The invasion has begun." [Via]
posted by homunculus (46 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
That we fucked up?
posted by limeonaire at 9:22 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


What they tell me is that evolution worked very well up to the point it gave us narcissism.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:34 PM on February 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


FYI: You can skip the first dozen or so paragraphs, then it's really just a list of man transporting different species around the globe, until you skip a few more paragraphs to reach more lists of man transporting species around the globe.

But it's OK cause at the end you can almost picture the reporter (a member of an invasive species) sitting back and watching the sun set as his guide (a member of the same invasive species) gathers up some spears and walks down the beach in the beautiful sunset as seen from an island neither of them have any business being on if all animals are meant to say where they first evolved.

Man transporting animals to new environments is a really big problem, no joke about it. This article however is a joke, it relies on idealism and guilt and offers nothing new.
posted by Science! at 9:48 PM on February 16, 2009 [9 favorites]


Seconding Science!
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 9:51 PM on February 16, 2009


It means you'd better start opening up talks to the Rat King.
posted by The Whelk at 10:23 PM on February 16, 2009


"...has begun"?

This kind of thing has been going on for a hell of a long time. For instance, when plate tectonics created a land bridge between North America and South America, a lot of species moved across it. South America got widespread extinction as invading placentals replaced native marsupials in most ecosystem niches, and North America got possums and armadillos.

Man transporting animals to new environments is a really big problem, no joke about it. This article however is a joke, it relies on idealism and guilt and offers nothing new.

I'll go along with that!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:36 PM on February 16, 2009


http://books.google.com/books?id=hhnIWGD5Zt0C&pg=RA1-PA473&dq=short+history+of+nearly+everything+flightless+bird&ei=J12aSbb4NoKEzgSG-eyODA

Start with "A great deal of extinction"
posted by The Whelk at 10:46 PM on February 16, 2009


What Invasive Species Are Trying to Tell Us

Well, actually the article doesn't answer the question at all! It simply lists a few invasive species and what they're doing, and that's it.

Look, populations change over time, animals go extinct, and food chains get disrupted. The earth is not a museum, and it can't be curated like one. The fish attacked by the Lionfish will eventually evolve to not be killed by it.
posted by delmoi at 11:43 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Because, you know, humans exists outside of nature, right?

So when we do it is is like evil, and when animals got to a new continent on floating debris and fucked up the natives, it was like good and shit, right? Because that was like Gaia's will and all natural and like karmic, right?

Like when birds get blown away in a storm and shit seeds and the seeds sprout and fuck up the locals, it is O.K., because bird shit is like 100% organic and shit and sprouts are good in vegan salads and brownies, right?

Like this weed man, weed is like native to the whole word, because it is like consciousness, right?

This kind of articles does a disservice to ecologists and biologists in general. Nature, which includes humans, is fine, it will take care of itself, with whatever number of species remain.

I bet in a hundred years people will be going to N.Y. to eat authentic Hudson River snakehead, the new gourmet fish, all locally sourced and organic.
posted by dirty lies at 12:20 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Your" world is ours.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:34 AM on February 17, 2009


Um, I think the thing is that we're the only invasive species on Earth that understands it's an invasive species and brings all our favorite pets, pests and prey with us and maybe that's a moralish issue cause now, we are, at this point of our development, aware of what we're doing and we kinda feel bad about it and realize it would have consequences without really understanding what they are.

It's the remorseful toddler period of evolution.
posted by The Whelk at 12:38 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


What do you mean with "at this point of our development" and "remorseful toddler period of evolution"?

Like evolution has a goal? That is scary, because "guilt and responsibility" comes just after "fear of dark" and "pleasure in genital manipulation", and we still have not gotten through "body odor", "enlargement of testes" and "victim of fashion".
posted by dirty lies at 12:57 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Despite the fact that every public beach in Queensland, Australia, has been periodically closed this season due to blooms of box jellyfish...

That is not really a fact about ALL the beaches being closed. The deadly box jellyfish is only usually way up north, certainly not (yet) along the beaches of southern Queensland, the Sunshine Coast near Brisbane, or the Gold Coast. And where they are common up north the beaches are always 'Swim at own risk - or swim in the stinger nets' during stinger season.

Also, Vinegar is a well known treatment for the sting:


Just sayin'.
posted by evil_esto at 1:02 AM on February 17, 2009


Link here, I mean
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Box_jellyfish#First_aid
posted by evil_esto at 1:03 AM on February 17, 2009


When I saw "walking snakeheads" I got excited. My God, have snakes gotten so adaptive to hostile environments that if you decapitate one, the head'll just sprout legs and start walking around, a la The Thing?

Turns out, no. Snakeheads are fishes, and they can "rhythmically move their fins and muscular bodies back and forth: the fish equivalent of walking." Bah. No Kurt Russell this time.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:24 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I didn't find the article to be a joke, at all. I quite enjoyed it. Yes, it is meant to inspire some guilt. But more, it is meant to inspire some concern, even fear. The invasive species are eating many of the same things we wish to eat, especially already over-fished stocks in the ocean.

But the article is also quite inspirational. It illustrates well an area of study that needs new people to take an interest. Barring some wide spread epidemic that takes a chunk out of human population, we need to understand these issues extremely well, in order to maintain our own environment, in balance with whatever the planet is throwing our way.

Not every article is touching science is intended as a scientific gem. Some are more intended to create a hunger for more. For myself, at least, I'm curious about lion fish, since I've done scuba amongst them, and no one was remotely cautionary about that (although the article suggests that, by day, they are relatively quiet).
posted by Goofyy at 2:11 AM on February 17, 2009


dirty lies, the article points out that invasive species occur naturally, but the rate of invasion is increasing due to humanity's increased mobility. From TFA:
...the rate of successful invasions in San Francisco Bay rose from about one a year between 1850 and 1970 to one every 14 weeks in the 1990s.
Further, it mentions that invasive species can interact in such a way that the damage they do is amplified. Nature does it too, yes. But she does it as a much, much slower rate than we do.
posted by lekvar at 2:14 AM on February 17, 2009


Metafilter: it relies on idealism and guilt and offers nothing new.
posted by PsychoKick at 2:22 AM on February 17, 2009


Because, you know, humans exists outside of nature, right?

Are you attempting to intimate that humans are still a part of the natural order of things when for the past several thousand years we have done everything within our unforunately quite extensive powers to set ourselves apart from it? Show me a ferret that dumps formaldehyde into a watercourse please.

I bet in a hundred years people...

lollerskates
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:42 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I got stung by a box jellyfish once. Just a little baby, thank the gods. Hurt like a motherfuck, for days. After it happened I keep screaming at my mates: "Piss on it! Piss on it!"

Protip: Urine doesn't actually do anything. Stick with the vinegar.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:44 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


OK, so we've accelerated processes that before took eons. But a figure like Les is actually totally reassuring - unfased and unthreatened, simply because they've found ways to cope/adapt. Instead of our illusions of control/intervention/saving-the-day, isn't that what scientists should be concentrating on, with insights provided by those attuned, when studying these new complexities? Oh, right: "Scientists never ask us anything."
posted by progosk at 2:54 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Urine doesn't actually do anything. Stick with the vinegar.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:44 AM on February 17, 2009


Introduction of invaders is not always accidental. Previously.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:01 AM on February 17, 2009


Nature, which includes humans, is fine, it will take care of itself, with whatever number of species remain.

No it doesn't

The fact is we are in the middle of one of the largest extinction events in the history of the earth. This means a major decrease in biodiversity, which in my book is a pretty central part to the health of "Nature" in general.

One can make a convincing argument that this loss of biodiversity is bad on an economic level. We will lose potential new medicines and the general degradation of the environment is likely to cause unexpected economic loses in economies that depend on those environments. While I agree with these arguments, what it really comes down to for me is an aesthetic argument. I think unique species are an amazing and beautiful thing like mountains and sunsets are amazing and beautiful. In fact unique species are even more amazing. It is mind blowing that a microscopic thread of DNA was able to outlast all those mountains and continents for billions of years in an unbroken chain of one life to another.

It's a damn shame that perhaps one half of all these unique life forms will be forever lost simply because we were too damn careless and greedy to protect them.
posted by afu at 4:26 AM on February 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


One can make a convincing argument that this loss of biodiversity is bad on an economic level.

I know what you're doing there man, but fuck it saddens me that it has to be phrased that way in order for people to go "Hmm, maybe you have a point." Nothing in the non-human world has value to us unless we can exploit it. Nothing is intrinsically valuable. That's so upsetting.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:31 AM on February 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Nothing is intrinsically valuable. That's so upsetting.

Survival is intrinsically valuable. If I can survive for one year longer by extincting a mastodon, hell yeah i'm gonna. Don't think the mastodon wouldn't do it to you for the same reason.

Species survival is wired into us to be valuable in the same way, but I don't have kids to worry about and my friends' kids are brats, so I just need to make sure the biosphere lasts another 40-70 years minimum.
posted by thedaniel at 5:05 AM on February 17, 2009


True, but at this point, our survival isn't going to be affected one way or the other by the extinction of other species. Right now it's just plain old gluttony.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:08 AM on February 17, 2009


Yes, I think that humans are as natural as any other life form on the planet.

I hate extinctions, specially the ones that result from stupidity or greed. All the way from enjoying the sight of beautiful plants, to all the potential drugs that we will never know, to a gut feeling that having more diversity is better, I think extinctions suck.

But to say that what humans do is not natural or part of the natural order cuts both ways. turgid dhalia, are you trying to say that in the past few thousands years we have succeeded in seceding from nature? Or are you saying that it was hubris to think humans are above and beyond nature? You seem to say both thing at once.

Thanks Darwin for getting us back on the right track. We are all in the same tree with all other living things.

And I am pretty confident that there will be humans eating fish in 100 years. There are humans everywhere in the planet, and you just need 50 or so somewhere to keep the species going. What do you think will happen within the next 100 years that will make every continent inhospitable to humans?
posted by dirty lies at 5:16 AM on February 17, 2009


Or are you saying that it was hubris to think humans are above and beyond nature? You seem to say both thing at once.

I'm saying that we selectively deploy disparate arguments. On the one hand, we are a part of nature, because we evolved just as much as anything else did and therefore are entitled to do whatever we find it is in our "nature" to do. But when it suits us, suddenly we're this ultimate entity, with complete power over everything we survey and who the fuck are you to compare us to gorillas, chimps, etc?

All I'm saying is: if you want to be part of nature, fine, stop fucking it up. If you don't want to be part of nature, then don't give me shit like "it's natural instinct" when you devastate an entire ecosystem, as we have done time and time again.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:23 AM on February 17, 2009


What do you think will happen within the next 100 years that will make every continent inhospitable to humans?

90% of the continent I live on right now is pretty inhospitable to humans. With things going the way they are - i.e. climate change - I really don't hold out much hope for things ten decades from now.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:24 AM on February 17, 2009


Well, don't feel TOO sorry for species other than humans. Odds are many of them will be around long after there are no more humans. Personally, I think it's gonna be cats after us. They're just biding their time, lazing around and letting us take care of their every need until such time as we're almost extinct. That's when they're gonna make their move and finish us off.
posted by jamstigator at 7:06 AM on February 17, 2009


The fact is we are in the middle of one of the largest extinction events in the history of the earth.

Starting 100,000 years ago, which would include the Ice Age. Don't forget that part. That's important.
posted by electroboy at 7:47 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Right now it's just plain old gluttony.

Right, those subsistence farmers in the Amazon just eat too damn much. Greedy bastards.
posted by electroboy at 7:54 AM on February 17, 2009


Starting 100,000 years ago, which would include the Ice Age. Don't forget that part. That's important.

From turgid dahlia's link:

The Holocene is a geological epoch which began approximately 11,700 years ago.

Not 100,000. Not Ice Age. Important.
posted by symbollocks at 8:55 AM on February 17, 2009


If the planet could survive this, then I doubt there is much we can do to ruin the future for life on this planet. Human life, maybe.

Invasion species is a huge problem for current ecosystems, but its a natural process and a new equilibrium will be reached... just not in our lifetimes.
posted by rosswald at 9:07 AM on February 17, 2009


I found this interesting: Wired Science link - Global Shipping and Biodiversity (and relevant).
posted by rosswald at 9:23 AM on February 17, 2009


Vinegar: is there anything you can't do?

But seriously, humans as a whole are pretty far removed from simple survival, and I really can't think of any species that is getting in the way of humans continuing to live.
Yes, the world will survive, but we don't really gain anything of substance when we introduce invasive species into ecosystems. Sure, those Eucalyptus may grow quickly in California, but the wood is useless and it doesn't get along with most other vegetation. Rabbits are tasty, but they're not really the best for Australia.

And it's not so much the subsistence farmers in the Amazon who are the problem, it's international logging and farming corporations. Subsistence slash and burn farming of the traditional method is fine, because the forest had time to grow back.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:47 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


“While I agree with these arguments, what it really comes down to for me is an aesthetic argument. I think unique species are an amazing and beautiful thing like mountains and sunsets are amazing and beautiful...”

Yeah, I argued against drilling in the Alaskan wilderness reserves with a buddy of mine on the basis that there should be some areas of the Earth left pristine.
He said “Why?”
I was actually hard pressed to come up with an answer. How does one justify a sunset? Or the existence of life outside oneself or one’s ends?
Never occured to me it’d need one really.
But then it’s pretty obvious how much a part of nature we are. Might seem ironic to some folks here, but I get that out of hunting. Not just being in the wild, although that’s part of it. But looking at how much work it takes to track and kill an animal, not to mention skin it, dress it out, keep the meat, etc. etc. - all that individual work rests on a huge effort to preserve space, an ecosystem where wildlife can live, clean water for them to drink, etc. etc. etc.
You don’t see the vastness and interdependancy of the myriad systems you depend on when you order a hamburger. Or eat a salad. Or bread. Etc. etc.
I can’t tell you how infuriating it is to piss into drinkable water. Or be forced to have petrochemical plastic wrap on pretty much everything you get in the store.

All that to create this illusion of instantaneous gratification. Like flipping a lightswitch on at home. Don’t even have to think about where that power comes from.
So, same deal here. Invasive species are a problem because they interfere in some ways with the systems we have set up.
But those systems - many of them - are arbitrary and self-conflicting in the first place. And they cause trouble and break down precisely because they’re not natural - or rather - they’re not working in harmony with nature.
They’re there to create this illusion of satiation and gratification as brought to you by - some company.

I remember drinking run-off from a glacier. I could see the source of the water. It was milk-white from the minerals but it filtered through a bunch of plants and such. No domestic livestock. Not an animal trail in sight. So no feces. No human campsites. All that. We were pretty far from just about everything civilized. So I scooped up big handfuls and drank.
Best tasting water I’ve ever had. Ice cold. Perfectly clear.

Buddy of mine, Dasini bottle in hand, said “Don’t drink that!”
I asked why not.
“It’s ... dirty!”
I pointed to the mountain of rock and ice and said I know where my water is coming from. I know how it's filtered. Do you know where yours is from?

Predictability is a big thing in an ecosystem. I don’t know that any of us have that anymore. People think they could ‘live off the land’ but you can’t. The ecosystem we have has been shaped to support the systems we have. And those systems are under control. This is not a new thing.
Back in the day they’d cut off your bowfinger if you hunted the King’s deer.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:39 AM on February 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


Not 100,000. Not Ice Age. Important.

Holocene epoch =/ Holocene extinction event. Again, from the link:
In broad usage, the Holocene extinction event includes the notable disappearance of large mammals, known as megafauna, starting 100,000 years ago as humans developed and spread. Such disappearances have been considered as either a response to climate change, a result of the proliferation of modern humans, or both. These extinctions, occurring near the Pleistocene–Holocene boundary, are sometimes referred to as the Quaternary extinction event or Ice Age extinction event. However the Holocene extinction event continues into the 21st century.
posted by electroboy at 10:40 AM on February 17, 2009


Discussing human activity as natural only works in the strict sense that comet and asteroid impacts are also nature. The footprint of man compares with extra-terrestrial things.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:00 PM on February 17, 2009


To those with the aesthetic argument:

For less than a hundred dollars you can set up a fish tank and keep alive any of a number of fish species that are extinct in the wild. You could go with killifish, they are beautiful and relatively easy to care for. The annual species are like flowers, they bloom, go to seed and die, you store your now dry-mud fishtank for six months, fill it up with water and the cycle repeats. There are some South American species that only exist in one or two private collections, that were saved from extinction by someone LITERALLY walking in front of the bulldozers picking up fish and eggs from the ponds that were about to be destroyed. Contact your local killifish club.

I keep a breeding colony of crayfish that have been extinct in the wild for a few decades due to industrial pollution, in the hope that before I die I may be able to reintroduce them. I do the same with a livebearer fish. Both are originally from around my mother's hometown in rural Mexico, both I had to get from European collectors that have been keeping the species going since the 1930s.

The first example I found.
posted by dirty lies at 1:56 PM on February 17, 2009


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing : Turns out, no. Snakeheads are fishes,

I feel like there is an implied "just" there between "are" and "fishes".

We've talked about them before, and I think we've established that snakeheads are some scary motherfuckers.

Saying they are nothing more than fishes suggests that they couldn't break into your house while you were sleeping, eat the legs off of your family, then light the place on fire and stand outside watching as you all flailed trying to escape.

They totally could.
posted by quin at 2:52 PM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


A snakehead ate my dog. Now i have trained the snakehead to fetch my slippers and the newspaper in the morning. They make great pets.
posted by dirty lies at 3:34 PM on February 17, 2009


Snakeheads do seem pretty scary, especially as fish go. But would Kurt Russell feel that nothing short of a flamethrower would kill one? I doubt it.

Advantage: Decaptitated head of snake that sprouts legs.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:58 PM on February 17, 2009


>Instead of our illusions of control/intervention/saving-the-day, isn't that what >scientists should be concentrating on, with insights provided by those attuned, when >studying these new complexities? Oh, right: "Scientists never ask us anything."

There's a article in today's NYTs about trying to get rid of invasive cats from the island of Macquarie. See, rabbits had been introduced to the island by seal hunters, so in 1968, the Australian government released a virus that killed off a lot of the rabbits. So the cats, deprived of rabbits, started eating birds. So Australia killed all the cats, and nothing was left to control the remaining rabbits and the rabbits ate all the native vegetation on the island, allowing invasive weeds to cover the slopes and, yes, you guessed it, prevent the birds from nesting.

So it's complicated, and I say that as a someone who studies invasive species for a living. Change is inevitable, but we have the option of being careful about what we do. The Asian longhorn beetle just showed up in Massachusetts. It's a slow clunky beetle, and we've successfully eradicated it from the Chicago area, and are close to getting it out of NY state. Massachusetts is doing all it can to eradicate it now: the other option is widespread mortality of maple trees and destruction of the maple sugar industry. We could survive that- after all, who misses the American Chestnut now, when it used to be one of the most valuble trees in Colonial America? But just as we can cause the introduction of invasive species, we can try to remove them, for all the reasons people have mentioned.

I agree that it's distasteful to put a monetary value on extinction, but that's what it takes to get action. It's sad that the swamp bay is being attacked by a beetle-vectored fungus, but what's getting action is the threat to the avocado industry. It's sad that the death of tanoaks in California is causing woodpeckers to starve, but it's the threat to the CA nursery and tourist industries that's put a quarantine in place.

The reality is that we can fix the problem when it's a slow clunky beetle, and we can't fix it when it's a fast, wind-borne pathogen. We just do what we can when there's money to do it.
posted by acrasis at 4:31 PM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The thing about extinction events (major ones) is this: That loss of biodiversity opens up the job market for the remaining species to diversify into the vacated niche, and in a few million years or so (or maybe less, depending on the species doing the evolving) there's new, unexpected biodiversity, the like of which no one could imagine. Happened with the dinosaurs. Major loss of biodiversity there, and then WHAM! little gerbil/lizard things that none of the old guys paid much attention to gave the world cats and whales and horses and Bach and Darwin and MetaFilter. I'm oversimplifying, of course. Read "The Ancestor's Tale" for deets.

I wish I could be around to see the cephalopods move into our abandoned cities.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 6:40 PM on February 17, 2009


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