Dealing with ecologists

Discussion in 'Members' Systems' started by gbell, Jul 18, 2014.

  1. gbell

    gbell Junior Member

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    Hi,

    Whenever anybody with a background in ecology is on our property, they're always pointing out 'dangerous' plants that they claim are destined to upset the local forest. Obviously, that threat is real. Here in NSW Australia, we have forest taken over by lantana, small-leaved privet, and others.

    But I also know these people are overly-alarmist, branding any non-native plant that grows or reproduces as dangerous.

    My questions for people with systems in place, like Geoff: "How do you deal with local ecologists, and what credence do you give any of their knowledge? Do you take any of their warnings or recommendations seriously? Have you had any plants escape into the local stable forests?
     
  2. gbell

    gbell Junior Member

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    I want to point out that I am not asking for another debate on weeds - search the forums here for plenty of good ones. I'm specifically asking about proper ecologists and what we think of their opinions and evidence base as it relates to what we're doing.
     
  3. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    Why not write David Holmgren then since he still writes & teaches about Ecology since he developed Permaculture with Bill Mollison; I am sure he can provide what ever data you are seeking.
     
  4. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    Question is a little loaded, and these threads never go well but with the current lower poster/reader count it may remain civil.

    Ecologist, as in university-trained and/or employed or local nativist?

    What stable forest? Where? At what point of its existence does it become stable? Will it ever be what it was prior European butchering? Most weeds colonise damaged landscapes, I can't think of too many native forests that have not been disturbed, terribly, at some point. Where I grew up in the Mid North Coast, the forest was about 20-30 years further along than where I live now. But still a regrowth forest and still with the same weeds.

    Having dealt with a few nativists now in a recovering area, and me as a non-native plant user, I just try and find a compromise within my own head (and trying to guess theirs) of use vs ecology. Personally, I think nativists have a picture in their head of what they imagine a forest can be but I don't think anyone can wrap their head around the complexities of native/endemic flora and fauna, permanently mixing with naturalised exotic flora (including natives from somewhere else) and fauna (down to the microscopic insect level and bacteria/fungi/etc). I subscribe to all the "green blogs" and most of the articles/evidence are fairly depressing and I feel there are way more important things to be worry about than some Easter Cassia flowering amongst some Lantana when you have degrading riparian and pasture areas losing topsoil every year. Attacking the Lantana and Easter Cassia gives some people a "result" which they feel good about, like they are making a difference. The same weed will be back at the same spot unless they replace it and that's the hard part, planting/maintaining/watering the replacements.

    What have you seen escape from a property into a stable forest? I did a little research in considering the current "weed of the month" emails I sometimes get and most, if not all, always have the description of appearing in degraded or disturbed landscapes when one digs a bit deeper. If I remove that weed, plant a endemic "forest" (all layers) over the top and maintain it, and then check in 20 years, will I have a problem with that weed? Surely, that research has been done? Anyone come across anything?
     
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  5. Steve Burgess

    Steve Burgess Junior Member

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    Here we go..important issue..lets approach it with respect and an open mind.

    I am "an ecologist" by training and practice, at various times over the last 35 years working in agricultural research, landscape management and repair, and biodiversity conservation, in both terrestrial and freshwater systems. Our home property is covered in 'weeds'. It includes some intensive market gardening, grazing, farm timber production, a gazetted nature refuge area and adjoins a National Park which was set aside for scientific purposes (biodiversity conservation and research).

    Yes, there are recently introduced plant and animal species which can invade and then drastically alter the structure and function of previously intact ecosystems. Here is an example of a good introductory paper which explains how this can happen.
    https://www.uam.es/personal_pdi/ciencias/alarchil/ECO3/Articulos/CROOKS_2002_T27.pdf. Some local examples of plants that fall into this category are cat's claw creeper, madeira vine, ochna, salvinia molesta.

    Yes, there are introduced species which seem to only establish in 'disturbed' areas and pose little threat to local biodiversity. Many agricultural weeds fall into this category - (although some of these have major economic impacts on agricultural production). Most of our useful agricultural crops and pastures also fall into this category

    There are no simple rules about "good" and "bad" organisms without taking into account the surrounding landscape management context. Regarding "weeds", you need to learn which plants are which, and some of the basics of their ecology, and then make the best decisions you can at the time about how you deal with them. For what it is worth, here is the philosophical framework that informs how we deal with particular plants and animals on our property.

    # The local landscape and ecosystems are on a trajectory of continuous change, some places fast, some places slow.

    # Our actions in the landscape should be based on the best understanding we can garner about how things got to be the way they are, and our best attempt at thinking through consequences by looking forward in time, and outwards and downstream geographically.

    # Our property (SE Qld), has been actively managed by humans in some fashion for at least the last 10,000 years. The last 100 years have seen massive changes and disturbance on many parts of the property., by people who had very little idea of the consequences of their actions.

    # The world is an incredibly complex place and it is best to assume that what we know about it is insignificant compared to what there is still to learn. We do know that many things are strongly interconnected in ways we do not yet understand. Therefore, it is better to be cautious and observant about changing aspects of the landscape that we may imagine that we can "improve".

    # We have management intents which are very different for the different parts of the property, and would like to see a different 'trajectory' for what sort of ecosystem these parts of the property are heading over the next few generations. (eg forest regeneration, intensive crop production, managed timber production, conservation of remnant ecosystems)

    So.. when we are trying to decide how to deal with a plant, we try to learn about what it is, what sort of habitat it prefers, how it reproduces and disperses, what effect it has on other organisms, what effect it has on the general landscape, whether it has caused problems for other people elsewhere. We then consider how it fits in the philosophical framework above.

    After going through this process, we do develop some very simple rules for different "weeds." on our property eg. Nil tolerance for nutgrass and couch grass in a vegetable production areas, don't care about thistles, cobblers pegs ageratum ,sida in pastures, constant vigilence on keeping madeira vine,and cats claw creeper from invading natural areas, nil tolerence of Hamil guinea grass and elephant grass, very relaxed about lantana and tobacco bush in highly disturbed areas, no tolerance of native forest species reestablishing next to garden areas.

    We should not expect there to be any simple answers, and it seems very lazy to think that we do not need to a put a lot of effort into constantly learning as much as we can about the landscapes and organisms that we are managing. The people who were managing/gardening this country for the thousands of years before we jumped in certainly spent a lot of effort in being educated about these matters.
     
  6. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    Thank you for two excellent posts SOP and Steve! Pak's idea of contacting David Holmgren is good too.
     
  7. Unmutual

    Unmutual Junior Member

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    From Wikipedia:

    As you can see, we share a lot in common with ecologists. You could even argue that we are ecologists.

    While we may not do it so accurately and with a lot of scientific instruments, we do pretty close to the same job, and a lot of our terminology is taken from ecology. I think you might be up against some people who are inclined to be vocal proponents of native species, not merely ecologists. Having said that, I have a great fondness of native species myself. I tend to look for native alternatives when I can find them just because they're easier to grow and they support local wildlife that we need. You can't usurp the dominant native species in an area without repercussions. If you can find out the full inventory of what used to be there, say, 50+ years ago, then you should have a better idea about your "web of life" which may or may not still be salvageable, starting with fungus on up. College-trained ecologists should be able to help you with that. While I understand that Bill Mollison had issues with colleges/universities, I don't. We can get away with being generalists simply because you don't need a deep understanding of anything to get a job done. However, I can almost guarantee that somewhere along the way, every serious permaculturalist has read something written by an ecologist.

    So to answer your questions:

    How do you deal with local ecologists, and what credence do you give any of their knowledge?

    I listen to local ecologists because I like to learn more about natural and local systems. I give their input a lot of credence, but it does usually send me researching more on the topics(so I also tend to verify their info along the way too). They are human, so they do make mistakes.

    Do you take any of their warnings or recommendations seriously?

    That depends! There aren't a lot of vegetative food sources for humans in my area. There are some, just not a lot, and they tend to all happen at the same time. Even the native Americans brought in their own staple food crops. If I were forced to eat a strictly local diet, then I'd just be eating seafood.

    Have you had any plants escape into the local stable forests?

    Everything alive has one simple function: to make more by reproduction. A forest will change its size naturally. Deer will come in and eat new growth, just as a severe storm/tornado will open the canopy and allow other species to germinate and take over. Everything is in flux when we deal with time. It's all about taking advantage of newly created niches, which sometimes we have control over, and sometimes we don't. I have no stable forest around here, however, the native swamps are being overrun by chinese tallow, and the local swamps and bayous are being taken over by several aquatic species(some natural systems are being choked to death). Our marshes are also being invaded by and destroyed by nutria. The gulf of Mexico and the states on the south eastern atlantic ocean are being overrun with lion fish(venomous. aggressive and very hungry...they're on the move because of the warming ocean waters). We're losing land, biodiversity, livelihoods and culture at an astonishing rate over here. Nutria and Chinese Tallow were both introduced species that went wrong and have spread rapidly. One aquatic invasive that we are "battling" is actually VERY beneficial. The water hyacinth purifies water and can even remove heavy metals, but it also blocks sunlight and messes with the oxygen exchange of our water.

    The bottom line is this: yes, it's going to escape sooner or later. The real question will be if it is highly invasive or not. If it outcompetes native species without performing the same job and feeding the same animals, then there is a problem. But as we also know, problems become solutions. That invasive species probably makes good chop-n-drop mulch at the very least(which might be it's long-term ecological niche anyway...)
     

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