Do Non-Native Species Threaten The Natural Environment?

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Abstract

Conservation biologists and other environmentalists confront five obstacles in building support for regulatory policies that seek to exclude or remove introduced plants and other non-native species that threaten to harm natural areas or the natural environment. First, the concept of “harm to the natural environment” is nebulous and undefined. Second, ecologists cannot predict how introduced species will behave in natural ecosystems. If biologists cannot define “harm” or predict the behavior of introduced species, they must target all non-native species as potentially “harmful”. an impossibly large regulatory task. Third, loss of species richness may constitute harm to an environment, but introduced organisms typically, generally, and significantly add to species richness in ecosystems. If species richness correlates with desirable ecosystem properties, moreover, such as stability and productivity, as some ecologists believe, then introduced organisms, by increasing species richness, would support those desirable properties. Fourth, one may plausibly argue that extinction constitutes environmental harm, but there is no evidence that non-native species, especially plants, are significant causes of extinction, except for predators in certain lakes and other small island-like environments. Fifth, while aesthetic, ethical, and spiritual values may provide a legitimate basis for invasive species policy, biologists often cite concepts such as “biodiversity” and ecosystem “health” or “integrity” to provide a scientific justification. To assert that non-native species threaten biodiversity or undermine ecosystem health, however, may be to draw conceptual entailments or consequences from definitions of “biodiversity” and “integrity” that arbitrarily exclude non-native species or make the presence of exotic species a per se indicator of decline.