Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Comparing Invasive Networks: Cultural and Political Biographies of Invasive Species*

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Comparing Invasive Networks: Cultural and Political Biographies of Invasive Species*

Article excerpt

Invasive species seem to be everywhere these days. Although plant species invasion--the secondary distribution of plants in areas where they are not native (Pysek 1995, 71)--has long been considered an important, albeit complex, problem in conservation science (Elton 1958), it is now more prevalent than ever. Invaders are increasingly evident around the world as the growing mobility of people and trade goods accelerates a longstanding process of contact and introduction.

Much is known about the character of these invasions. Most contemporary scientific investigations of invasion are inquiries into the inherent characteristics of invasive species. To a lesser degree, scientific research has also tried to explicate the characteristics of environments into which invasives successfully expand. Some species tend to be invasive; some landscapes are, or can become, more invadable.

This understanding of the character of species invasion is certainly sound and is based on good science and long-term observation (Newsome and Noble 1986; Roy 1990; Rejmanek and Richardson 1996), but it is somewhat incomplete. What causes a species to be labeled as "invasive" by individuals, communities, and states? Why do some invasive species spend long times in moderate rates of spread, only to suddenly expand with changes in social or economic conditions? How do invasive species come to interact with humans in such a way as to accelerate or decelerate their rate of expansion? What cultural and political conditions make a landscape invadable or tend to lead to species introduction in the first place? In the modern model of invasion--modern in the sense of both "contemporary" and "modernist" in outlook (Latour 1993)--based on the growing body of solid biophysical research on the problem (see especially Pysek, Jarosik, and Krucera 2002), the answers to these questions are considered somewhat contingent, where the introduction of inherently invasive species to invadable landscapes is seen as an accident of history--the right plant, in the right place, at the right time--perhaps accelerated in this contemporary era of contact.

The work introduced in this special issue, empirical case studies from a range of social and environmental contexts, aims to improve and expand the research on species invasion and refuses to accept the social parameters of invasion as nonsystematic, contingent, and random. Rather, these cases show the patterned and structured character of invasions in a number of contexts.

This essay seeks to consolidate and expand on this work. The article first reviews what is referred to here as the "modern model of invasion," collective wisdom from decades of work in the biophysical analysis of species invasion. Based on the work presented in this collection, the article then offers an alternative formulation suggesting that cultural and political ecology may advance and improve this model by better specifying the way human and nonhuman systems interact. Specifically, the argument follows these several authors in suggesting that the very definitions of "invasion," "invasive," and "exotic" must be considered somewhat relative and heavily influenced by culture and politics. We also argue that because the human "preparation of landscape" is a prerequisite for many cases of invasion; and, because species invasions impact local culture and politics in a way that often leads to changes that in turn influence environmental systems, specific power-laden networks of human and nonhuman actors tend to create the momentum for invasion. Finally, this approach is applied to two cases of Mimosa species invasion in Asia and Latin America, demonstrating the portability of the key lesson learned from comparative invasion studies: It is not species but sociobiological networks that are invasive.


The study of species invasions is one with an impressive history, rooted in the exigencies of land management but growing into a basic science in its own right. …

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