Saturday, August 19, 2006


AP reports that biologists in California are concerned that a recent "invasion" of giant-sized oysters into San Francisco Bay could threaten the ecosystem, and "efforts to restore native species." In fact, "wildlife officials quickly organized an effort to remove the unwelcome mollusks and hope they can eliminate them before they harm the bay ecosystem" (emphasis added).

I'm no biologist -- and I welcome any input from folks who actually know what they're talking about -- but the wildlife officials' plan strikes me as the real interference with the ecosystem, with evolution. Who are we to decide that the stronger species shouldn't get to dominate its environment? At what point does our "tweaking" of the natural world become just as meddlesome as killing off whales or wolves? We've come to agree that it's wrong to capriciously drive a species to extinction, but we seem to think it's just fine to prevent nature from doing so in its own course.

If we could go back 60M years, would we step in to prevent the extinction of the dinosaurs?

Any thoughts?


Blogger Thrillhous said...

Interesting question! I've wondered about it too. Look at the Condor. How much has been spent saving them? Can't we just do like in Jurassic park and save some of their DNA? I don't like the idea of extinctifying species, but that is kinda the way Darwin designed the universe, right?

I guess the argument is that there is a certain balance to an ecosystem, and species can only invade when that balance has been disturbed - by, say, a certain bipedal species dumping pollutants into the oceans.

In the south, they introduced kudzu to prevent erosion. Worked great, but then the kudzu took over, choking out all sorts of indigeneous species. Since about 1985 we've been in full jihad against the kudzu, and it's gone about as well as any jihad of the last 1000 years or so.

But man, I could go for some clam chowder right about now.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I guess the argument is that there is a certain balance to an ecosystem, and species can only invade when that balance has been disturbed - by, say, a certain bipedal species dumping pollutants into the oceans.

That, of course, is what I was wondering about. And frankly I don't know the answer. But I'm curious.

But man, I could go for some clam chowder right about now.

Exactly. Talk about a leap forward in evolution! Whoever invented that treat . . .

11:55 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

this always reminds me of a time in viet nam during one of my first extended jaunts through the boonies. we had stopped to remove leeches for the umpteenth time that day and i was losing it. shuddering in disgust and fear i said "this jungle's out to get us." in a trembling voice. a cambodian tribesman who was with us came over and gently laid a hand on my shoulder and said "jungle no get you. jungle no care." the people who try to control crap like this, while they claim a love of nature and earth have no concept of the size and indifference of the very thing they claim to love and "protect."

1:30 PM  
Anonymous waitingforthealiens said...

As a chemical industry golfer, I certainly do not qualify as a dyed-in-the-chlorophyll Green. But come on, guys, this species of oyster was in all likelihood introduced into the bay by humans; either deliberately or pumped out a ships bilge.

Take a good hard look at fire ants, European starlings and the snake’s head fish. Introduced species tend to proliferate at alarming rates because the organisms that evolved to kept them in check in their native habitat do not exist in the new environment. These out of control critters can do a whale of a lot of damage in the new neighborhood.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Weaseldog said...

waitingforthealiens said what I was going to bring up.

Our meddling with nature isn't a natural part of evolution, though evolution will continue as we meddle.

As to the Condor, they weren't selected out by nature but with Winchester rifles.

You might as well argue that a Home Depot parking lot is an example of an evolving ecosystem.

We really aren't capable of managing the changes we inflict on nature. We'll keep wrecking the balance until it kills us. That's the way we do things.

We're living off a bounty of fossilized energy and when it's gone, nature will go back to meddling with us.

Karma is real.

11:49 AM  
Blogger DED said...

waitingforthealiens and weaseldog bring up very important points. Although there is debate in the scientific community over whether or not we should attempt to do anything about invasive species, there is no argument that it is mankind, whether intentionally introducing species or unwittingly allowing stowaways, that caused 99% of this. I don't know if there's an answer. I suppose some effort will be made to save some species from invaders, while others will go unchecked. The benefits of eliminating the invaders need to be weighed against the benefits of letting them stay and driving off the natives.

While oak trees are native to Connecticut, some maple trees aren't. Does that mean we should cut down all the maple trees? The euonymous (sp?) bush, aka burning bush, is in the top 10 of invasive plant life in this state. There was a bill in the legislature that proposed banning the sale of the plant. I don't know if it passed. It's endemic and prolific. I have many specimens in my yard. Since learning that it's invasive, I've demoted it in importance in my yard. While I'm not uprooting it, I don't protect it either. Instead, I give preference to the plants its competing with.

12:14 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I hear what WFTA & Weas said, and I agree from a factual (i.e, "What happened?") standpoint.

But I'm getting a whiff of morality here. And not just in the "let's watch what we do going forward" sense. And that moral question is what I'm posing here:

Assuming that mankind has screwed up the biosphere, that means we should then step in and meddle even more, trying behind a mask of "good intentions" to undo the harm? Might we not just screw it up further? And, at what point do we accept the actions (good, bad, neutral, pro-active, retroactive, etc) of the dominant species as just another step in the evolution of our species, other species, and our world?

Again, I don't know the answer, and I welcome the discussion in whatever direction it takes. Just trying to re-frame the original question.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Weaseldog said...

I thought that's what you might've been saying Mike.

The problem with invasive species is that the simplify the ecology until evolution catches up.

A simpler ecosystem is less productive.

Over all it means less energy captured for sustaining humans.

That said, I don't think we can do a thing about it. We'll screw it up either way.

Remember all of those films we saw of Salmon jumping up those fish ladders?

It turns out their populations kept decreasing while we watched those films. Now salmon make their spawning runs in pickup trucks.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Weaseldog said...

I saw this film recently.

It is relevant to our current discussion, though it doesn't really answer any questions.

I highly recommend it.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Now salmon make their spawning runs in pickup trucks.

The $3.00+ per gallon for fuel must be killing them. And now the bastards probably think they can just pass the cost to us consumers, and all . . .

Ungrateful fish.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous sj said...

Nature bats last...

4:52 AM  

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