Sometimes when I think about climate change, I feel like there’s not much point in things like species preservation. If rising temperatures are going to kill off most endangered species anyway, then what’s the point? At a minimum, shouldn’t we be investing all that money and effort into ending the use of fossil fuels?
As I mentioned before, we need these species. Specifically, we need functioning ecosystems, and these are made up of a wide range of organisms. More than that, there is ample evidence that in the face of climate change and chemical pollution, actively working to support struggling ecosystems can help a lot. Just as it would be dangerous to think that we are separated from the biosphere, it is also dangerous to think that if we solve the fossil fuel problem, everything else will fall into place. In a world where we desperately need to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels, is it really question if the plants are “local”, as long as they photosynthesize and feed on insects?
Well, it turns out it is. It’s really important.
It is no secret that the ecological health of the planet is seriously threatened. Scientists have previously identified invasive species, drought and an altered nitrogen cycle, driven in part by the widespread use of synthetic fertilizers, as among the most serious planetary challenges, with global climate change topping the list. listing. Many have assumed that climate change will systematically amplify the negative effects of invasive species, but until now no research has been done to test this hypothesis.
“The good news,” says Bethany Bradley, professor of environmental conservation at UMass Amherst and the paper’s senior author, “is that the bad news isn’t as bad as we thought.”
To reach this conclusion, the team, led by Bianca Lopez, who conducted the research as part of her postdoctoral training at UMass Amherst, and Jenica Allen, professor of environmental conservation at UMass Amherst, conducted a meta-analysis of 95 previously published studies. From this previous work, the researchers found 458 cases reporting the ecological effects of invasive species combined with drought, nitrogen, or global warming.
“What we found surprised us,” Lopez says. “There were a number of instances where the interactions made everything locally worse, which is what we expected to see, but only about 25% of the time. instead, the combined effects were not much more than the impact of the invasive species alone.
It also surprised me when I first read this, but have you ever seen what it looks like when an invasive plant invades an area? Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my dad as he studied garlic mustard. It’s a biennial plant from the UK that can be used as a herb in the kitchen (hence its name) and is remarkably good at generating large amounts of long-lasting seeds. In the United States, a single plant in seed is enough for them to begin to take over. They spread so densely that nothing else can grow, and if you want to kill a population you have to uproot and remove the flowering plants every year for about five years before you are sure there are no seeds that just sprout and undo all your hard work.
Another one I’ve worked with is honeysuckle – a woody shrub brought to the United States from Asia as a decorative plant, if memory serves. Like garlic mustard, when it takes over it smothers everything else, but the effect is more extreme and obvious. I’m not sure if it’s allelopathic, but it seems so, because nothing grows under them. Part of this is also due to the fact that they put out the leaves not just before the trees, but before the spring wildflowers. Normally a forest will have a variety of plants growing in the understory, for a variety of reasons. In large parts of the United States, honeysuckle forms such a dense layer that it looks like a green mist over the landscape in early spring, and it’s just bare soil and dead leaves beneath that mist.
So really, that should not surprised me. Invasive species cause major changes to the landscape when they take hold, and it makes sense that an ecosystem that lacks so many plant species functions very differently from an ecosystem that has a healthy level of diversity.
“What’s so important about our findings,” says Allen, “is that they underscore the critical importance of managing invasive species at the local scale.” And the local scale is precisely the scale at which effective and rapid action is most likely to occur.
In fact, as Allen points out, it already is. “Organizations such as the Northeast Regional Invasive Species and Climate Change (RISCC) network, which is a consortium of scientists and natural resource managers dedicated to sharing information and best practices on invasive species control, are already putting implement a range of proactive practices to deal with invasive species.” And because tackling invasive species is relatively cost-effective and does not require future technological innovation, real progress can be made now, including by preventing the spread of invasive plants before they take over.
“Our work shows that tackling invasive species will make our ecosystems more climate resilient,” says Bradley.
And as we know, resilience is key. There is a tendency among modern left-wing climate activists to dismiss the 20th century environmental movement. To a depressing extent, I think that’s valid. Although the movement had some real successes, it was rotten with white supremacy, colonialism and outright lies about Indigenous peoples “mismanaging” the land. I say it was like that, but it often still is. That said, the focus on native species and invasive species control continues to be something they understood well.
If you’re looking for something to do about climate change and don’t know where to start, you could do worse than look into and join local efforts to fight invasive species. I’ll just say that if you’re new to this, try to get some real training before you start uprooting plants – sometimes it’s extremely difficult to be sure what kind of thing you’re dealing with (this is applies to animals and fungi as well), so look for efforts that are associated with a university of a nature center.
None of this will lessen the need for revolutionary systemic change, but anything we can do to give ourselves breathing room is worth doing. Helping your local ecosystem is helping your region in the face of climate change, and if you do it with an already active group, it’s a way for you to network and organize yourself.
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