Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Invasive species

rokojo's picture


One of the biological consequences of human globalization is the shuffling around of organisms by human beings. There have been countless situations where humans have carried species from their native locations to new ones. Occasionally, these species aggressively take over, destroying the environment they are transported to. As humans, our way of life depends on globalization. We consume very little that is truly native. As we moved and traveled, settled and colonized, so too did our organisms. This exchange of foods and cultures and animals has enriched our lives as humans. However, this hasn’t come without a cost. Although there is some benefit to this transport of organisms, globalization has caused an extreme amount of harm in the world, ecologically as well as socially.


1st-6th extinction view on invasive species, talk about how humans have brought organisms all over the world, eventually leading to a loss of biological diversity. Use quote about gardening catalogues to lead into 2nd paragraph


“without human help, long-distance travel is for most species difficult, bordering on impossible.” (Kolbert, 195)

“The movement of species around the world is sometimes compared to russian roulette...Two very different things can happen when a new organism shows up. The nothing...the new arrival doesn’t survive (or at least fails to reproduce)...the majority of potential invaders don’t make it. In the second option, not only does the introduced organism survive, it gives rise to another feneration, which in turn survives and gices rise to another generation. This is what is known in the invasive species community as “establishment”...a certain number complete the third step in the invasion process, which is “spread”.” (Kolbert, 201)

“The corollary to leaving old antagonists behind is finding new, naive organisms to take advantage of.” (Kolbert, 203)

“David Quammen cautions that while it is easy to demonize the brown tree snake, the animal is not evil; it’s just in amoral and in the wrong place. What Boiga irregularis has done in Guam, he observes, “is percicely what Homo sapiens has done all over the lanet: succeeded extravagantly at the expense of other species.” (Kolbert, 204)

“Plantais seem to have arrived with the very first white settlers and were such a reliable sign of their presence that the Native Americans referred to them as “white men’s footsteps”.” (Kolbert, 205)

“The drifting apart of the now being reversed-another way in which humans are running geologic history backward and at high speed.” (Kolbert, 208)

“Alan Burdick has called Homo sapiens “arguably the most successful invader in biological history”-the process goes back a hundred and twenty thousand years or so, to the period when modern humans first migrated out of africa....the “discovery” of the new world initiated a vast biological swap meet...which took the process to a whole new level.” (Kolbert, 210)

“still today, americans often deliberately import “foreign varieties” they think “might prove useful or interesting”. Garden catalogs are filled with non-native plants.” (Kolbert, 211)

“The immediate effect of all this reshuffling is a rise in what might be called local diversity...for the same reasons that local diversity has, as a general rule, been increasing, global diversity-the total number of different species that can be found worldwide-has dropped.” (Kolbert, 212)

“If we look far enough ahead, the eventual state of the biological world will become  not more complex, but simpler-and poorer.” (Kolbert, 213)


2nd-talk about Lloyd’s view on invasive species as immigrants, our way of life dependant on non-native US cash crops

“There is an idea in circulation that these so-called “aggressive” non-native plants are harmful, invasive, and will displace “native” species. How ironic to hear these theories propounded by people of european ancestry in america! Just consider this: Not a single one of the food crops that make the U.S. an agricultural power today is native to North America. Our plants are as immigrant as we are!” (Ozeki, 67)

3rd-talk about immigration/colonization in comparison with invasive species. Will an increase in diversity eventually lead to a loss of diversity? Talk about potential loss of culture.


Anne Dalke's picture

this is a GREAT topic, and you’ve done a very nice job of assembling a range of good quotes you can use from Kolbert’s text. I also think that the quote you take from Lloyd’s seed pamphlet—“How ironic to hear these theories propounded by people of european ancestry in america!”—is the “crack” you could crack open to really develop some of the complexities here, in the intersection of human and environmental concern.

Kolbert focuses so much on our restless curiosity, the human capacity to imagine an alternative world. Her doing so puts me in mind of Edward Said's discussion, in The World, the Text and the Critic(1983), of "travel as a habit of mind," of the importance of getting some distance in order to see clearly. This is an "ascetic code of willed homelessness," a procedure which allows us to think beyond the box/boundaries/

commonsense, to theorize what is new. It privileges the concept of movement, of transition, an openness of mind facilitated by being "unsettled." Said’s argument, simply put, is that you can’t be an intellectual unless you can detach from investments, unless you can move (he was Palestinean, so he didn’t say this lightly, or out of historical context).

What you foreground in Kolbert’s report is of course the biological downside of such movement, the ecological disaster it has created…

now THAT’s a story, one that really mashes together the intellectual and the ecological, identity and the environment.