Biosecurity and ecology: beyond the nativism debate
DOI link for Biosecurity and ecology: beyond the nativism debate
Biosecurity and ecology: beyond the nativism debate book
Spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) is a little plant with pretty purple ﬂowers, native to Eastern Europe, yet hugely successful beyond this original range, particularly in North America. Spotted knapweed was accidentally introduced into North America in the 1890s, probably in alfalfa seed transported from Eastern Europe. It was ﬁrst identiﬁed in Victoria, on the west coast of Canada, in 1893. It is assumed that soil carried on ships as ballast and unloaded in the port transported knapweed seed to this site (Mauer et al, 2001). Like all plants, it has a particular biography. Its very name reﬂects a classiﬁcation: the term ‘weed’ typically denoting the unloved plants, growing in the wrong place, a purely cultural term devoid of botanical meaning. Botanists recently attempted to model the spread and potential future expansion of spotted knapweed (Broennimann and Guisan, 2008, p. 585). They explored what evolutionary and ecological factors inﬂuence the invasion process, testing whether plants evolve traits likely to increase their success in the new range (testing whether invaders are ‘made’) or whether functional determinants of communities or landscapes control invasiveness (invaders are ‘born’) because, surprisingly, the ecological conditions in both of these differed. Somehow, once they had moved halfway across the globe they appeared to prefer new ecological conditions. Simply assuming, as had been done up to then, that they would conserve ecological conditions similar to their native range was not enough (Broennimann and Guisan, 2008, p. 585). Any traveller could have told you that travel broadens the mind, but this
common-sense explanation might understandably not satisfy botanists. Instead, they suggested that one explanation is that certain plants, including spotted knapweeds, occasionally display different ploidal levels, that is to say that certain individuals have multiple copies of all their genes. Unless a taxonomist did extensive genetic analysis, two plants of differing ploidal levels would look exactly the same, and they would classify them as belonging to the same species. But this ploidal diversity is one possible explanation for the differing preferences between
these globalized, mobile spotted knapweeds and their original sedentary cousins, challenging what we understand to be a single, particular species. These plants have used the globalized infrastructures that we have spread across the world, hopping on and off container ships from Europe to North America and back again, catching rides on lorries and spreading along roads, into marginal urban spaces. They have shown themselves to be out of bounds, out of place and out of control. Farmers curse them halfway across the globe. Throughout these debates, the question of where such plants came from originally (native range), before they started travelling, is a recurrent concern. To where do they really belong, what right do they have to settle in new places and are the new ‘invaders’ returning to Europe really fundamentally the same as the ‘natives’ they left behind? And, perhaps more importantly, to what extent are these ecological or political questions, and why might it matter? In this chapter, and moving on from the example of the globally mobile and
invasive knapweed, I explore how the idea of nativism structures both conservation policy and the public’s sanctioned relationships with nature. This is a highly contested terrain, receiving critique and debate from a wide variety of natural scientists, social scientists, activists and stakeholders. It continues to be a difﬁcult dialogue, with tempers ﬂaring on all sides. Debates about the deﬁnition of what is ‘natural’, and about the separation of humans and nature, take a speciﬁc and meaningful form in the biosecurity context. This chapter therefore considers the language and deﬁnitions used to structure nativist concerns, the suitability of classiﬁcation criteria, the underpinning science and the pragmatic justiﬁcations for nativist policies. Crucially, it discusses the discursive andpolitical implications of the ‘nativist paradigm’, and the ideological assumptions and cultural motivations for nativist policies, including the degree to which the ‘native good, aliens bad’ discourse might be a barrier to all citizens’ participation in environmental conservation, including ethnic minorities. Concrete examples draw from other research carried out in Switzerland where the issue of invasive species was speciﬁcally raised on the political agenda following the arrival of ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), a North American plant with human health impacts.1 It ends with a discussion of what happens when policies are put into practice, indicating that on the ground categories are much less ﬁxed than current academic debates might suggest.