Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Nativeness, Invasiveness, and Nation in Australian Plants*

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Nativeness, Invasiveness, and Nation in Australian Plants*

Article excerpt

Species have been moving around the globe throughout the ecological history of the Earth. These movements have accelerated in the last few hundred years as a consequence of European colonialism, intensified human impacts on the environment, and economic and social globalization. The Global Invasive Species Program of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature now argues that "Invasive alien species are recognised as one of the leading threats to biodiversity and also impose enormous costs on agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and other human enterprises, as well as on human health" (Wittenberg and Cock 2001, 1).

But the concept of invasive alien--or exotic, or introduced--species conflates two axes of variability that need to be differentiated if management solutions are to be most effective. Invasiveness refers to the behavior of an organism, particularly in relation to other species and ecosystems. Alienness--or its converse, nativeness--refers to its presumed belonging in a certain place. Invasives take over, but they may take over places in which they belong. Aliens are in the wrong place, but they are not necessarily taking over. The idea of nation in concepts of ecological belonging adds a third layer of variability. Nation, as a sociopolitical construct, may or may not make ecological sense, and it operates at a variety of scales. In the European context, nation may be too small; in the Australian context, it may be too large.

In this study we analyze the interpenetration of nativeness, invasiveness, and nation in relation to Australian plants. We illustrate the variable social processes implicated in such conceptualizations by drawing on two distinct bodies of environmental understanding. The first is the biogeographical and ecological literature, in which complex combinations of biophysical factors and processes are understood as contributing to invasiveness and invasibility. These scientific understandings are influential in the formulation of government policy toward and environmental management of invasive species. Second, we examine the vernacular experiences of suburban backyarders, who interact with species in the context of domestic gardens. Urban dwellers are significant ecological actors, through both their political influence on environmental policy and the species they permit in the domestic spaces over which they have control. These latter ecological influences may magnify over time, given the dominance of yesterday's garden plants among contemporary lists of invaders. As a recent overview emphasizes, "The worst weeds were deliberately introduced and then escaped.... Nearly all introductions of woody plants that have become invasive were introduced by horticulturalists, botanists, foresters, agroforesters or gardeners.... One paradox that needs to be explicitly addressed is that many of the attributes of invasive species are precisely those characteristics favored by the horticulture industry" (Myers and Bazely 2003, 240-241).

It is relevant, therefore, to understand and compare the thoughts and practices of people who engage with plants at the domestic level as well as those of professional scientists and land managers. As Paul Robbins (2004) points out, suburban gardens are important nodes in a number of sociobiological networks. The relationship between perception and practice is increasingly recognized as important by ecologists: "The particular problem posed by invading Australian plants relates to perceptions of weediness. Many people are reluctant to believe that the invasions are of management concern; how can a 'native' plant be a weed?" (Carr 2001, 124).

Analyzing attitudes toward broad categories such as nativeness can tend to be rather abstract and mask the details of people's engagements. Thus we look at interactions with three woody weed species in more detail: Pittosporum undulatum Vent. (sweet pittosporum, native daphne, mock orange; Pittosporaceae), Lantana camara L. …

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