‘What about the starlings?’


Photograph by Marilyn Peddle

From Boston Globe:

flock of starlings in flight is called a “murmuration,” one of the most pleasing collective nouns. It’s also one of nature’s most pleasing sights, an undulating mass of thousands of black dots that coalesce into hypnotic shapes, like an airborne Rorschach test or a lava lamp.

But to some in the United States, a murmuration of starlings is unwelcome. Loud and aggressive, the species is said to bully the native woodpeckers and bluebirds.

Not all alien species are disliked. Both cows and honey bees, for instance, were introduced. The honey bee is now the state insect of 12 states. But during the 20th century, sentiment turned against non-native species, sometimes without regard to their actual impact. In a 2011 paper, Dr. Martin Schlaepfer of SUNY Syracuse and his colleagues determined that “a bias persists against non-native species among scientists.” The positive effects of an introduced species are rarely reported, and scientific literature about non-native species is “frequently scattered with militarized and xenophobic expressions.”

To the US government and the European Parliament, an invasive species is defined as one that might “harm” the ecosystem. But the meaning of “harm” is often based on what humans need or want, not what’s best for nature.

Still, for government, the mandate to oust invaders is clear. “There are a lot of invasive pests where there is really no question, and I would say that a majority of them would fall into that category,” said Dr. Rosalind James, who studies invasive pests of crops in the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. She points to citrus greening, a disease currently devastating the Florida orange crop. It spreads via the Asian psyllid, a tiny bug that has cut a swath through citrus trees from China to Afghanistan and now the Western Hemisphere. The US government has plunged $380 million into eradicating the disease, and the bug, since 2009.

“Humans make a mess, but invasive species get the blame”, Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, Boston Globe