“Alien Species:” a perspective on conservation science

Nicholas Mustoe

Former Sustain Mizzou member and current Student Conservation Association intern Nicholas Mustoe offers his opinion in response to the recent Yale E360 report, “Alien Species Reconsidered: Finding a Value in Non-Natives.” The original article discusses “research that demonstrates that some non-native plants and animals can have beneficial impacts.”

I feel the article almost willfully blurs the line between two different terms we use in conservation science. Alien species are those that are not where they would be without humans. Examples include honey bees and corn. Invasive species are those that often exclude large numbers of other species. Invasives can be alien but rarely are native. Examples of these include Japanese honeysuckle and kudzu.

Now, not all alien species are bad. In fact, MDC often plants food plots which are often rows of corn in a conservation area. These feed deer and please deer hunters. Few conservationists are going to argue that honey bees or corn do not have a place in non-native ecosystems. The deciding factor on an alien species is if it can be controlled.

The focus on alien species being bad comes from several examples of when conservationists were the ones doing the introduction of what ended up being invasive species. The lesson was to be extremely careful about introductions not get rid of every alien species. Follow the first rule of clockmaking, keep track of all the parts.

My concern about this article is that it does not explain that alien species can, but aren’t always, invasive. My fear is that people may be less careful about preventing introductions of alien species that can often be impossible or costly to eradicate.


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