Our friend the mesquite seems to pop up in the most unlikely of places. Mesquite, a genus which includes thorny desert shrubs/trees from various parts of the Americas, perhaps most clearly demonstrates the importance of context. It’s not that a species is inherently bad because it’s invasive. Or, to go as far as some naysayers, that to want to prevent or remove invasive species is a sign of xenophobia. What that argument glosses over, is that context is key. For example, mangos are delicious… unless you are allergic.
There is still time to contribute to the science of science communication! See the bottom of this post to do so AND also win prizes. Survey closes Nov 20, 2015.
This may, perhaps, be more than you needed to know. But I am allergic to poison ivy. No big deal, you might think. You’re a botanist. Surely you know what it looks like! Just avoid it.
Over the course of my PhD work (published here, and most recently here), I have found evidence for evolved differences in phenotype (in other words, in their morphology, development, phenology, stress responses) between native and invasive populations of diffuse knapweed. Why is that interesting? Well the invasive populations didn’t even exist until barely 100 years ago. And something about them has let them succeed and spread over vast areas of their new habitat. Perhaps what has made them so successful can be revealed by comparing the invasive diffuse knapweed populations to their closest relatives, the native diffuse knapweed populations.
Wow, sorry folks, I’ve been slacking, and that whole PhD thing is a sorry excuse! Let me tell you a little natural history about a plant called diffuse knapweed (Centaurea diffusa), the Dr. Moriarty to my Sherlock Holmes.
This man-eating penultimate edition of Students of Ethnobotany comes from the fascinated Yvette Beesley.
When I was in my teens my parent were large supporters of the Arts and took me to this play called “The Little Shop of Horrors”. It was amazing, with a singing and dancing plant called Audrey2 that needed blood to survive.
Edit: This post won Best post by a high school or undergraduate blogger from the Science Seeker blog awards. Well done, Joycelyn!
This holiday themed edition of Students of Ethnobotany comes from the festive Joycelyn Cheung.
It is the favorite past time of every invasion biologist since H. G. Baker in the 1960s to make lists of traits which distinguish invaders. We’ve been doing it for at least 50 years, and yet, no list ever seems to satisfy. There are always exceptions – a majority of cases seem to be exceptions, really. And maybe that’s because we need to think about it in more dimensions.
Common question: Why should we worry about species moving around, anyway, haven’t they always done that? A forest is a just a forest and a grassland is just a grassland after all. What are you getting so worked up about? Aren’t humans the worst invasives?
Answer: Yeah, humans are the worst invasives, but I can’t really justify mass extirpations for humans. Not yet, anyway. Though limiting birth rates probably isn’t a terrible idea.
Oops! I’ve been so busy preparing for my talk at the Ecological Society of America’s annual conference that I missed my post deadline. Sorry about that. However, it’s a pretty exciting opportunity. I’ll be part of an organized session that involves some really great speakers called “Contemporary Evolution Amid the Human Enterprise: New Insights Into the Fates of Populations and Communities.” If that doesn’t describe the the evolution of invasiveness, I’m not sure what does.
Here’s my abstract. If you are at ESA, come see my talk and we can nerd out over invasives!