Influencing nature - what is your oppinion?

I wanted to get some feedback on my actions, whether people find it ok to do or not. I find some plants really pretty and I have a soft spot for rare species. For example, Marsilea quadrifolia was extinct in poland in the 1920s, and since then it has been reintroduced officially in some spots in Silesia region. Last year, I have planted m. quadrifolia in several ponds and wetland habitats, close to where I originate(I live in Germany now), this year I was happy to see that in some spots, the plant has overwintered succesfully and is flourishing. I do the same with trapa natans, which is also very rare in Poland. How do you guys and girls see this? I restrict myself to habitats modified by humans(mostly farm channels and ponds, ditches).

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As long as those working on reintroduction are aware of your actions (to avoid confusion with survived populations and overall) and plants you have originated in close by regions, I think there’s nothing bad if you know they lived there before.

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Everything we do influences nature because we are a part of it, so why shy away from influencing the landscapes we call home in a positive way? We have messed up so many ecosystems around the world that it is important we have people working to restore degraded areas (‘restore’ may not be the best word, as it implies that a previous state of the community should be replicated). However, the people doing this work need to have a real knowledge of the communities they are working with; it is too often that I see people removing native plants that they have misidentified as invasive species. I was really bothered to find an endangered (S1 in Connecticut) willow in a managed fen, being hacked down the same as the alders and the introduced Salix cinerea that are “encroaching” on the herbaceous vegetation. The land conservancy that owns the site had no idea this species was present and was not aware anything other than “Salix sp.” was growing at the site. I’m an advocate of knowing as much as possible about an ecological community before interfering with it in any significant way, but I’m not saying that interference itself is bad. As for the specific case of reintroductions, I often reintroduce species that likely once grew on my land, and I keep a record of the introductions (and I try to track down the nearest natural populations, which are often closer than you might think).

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Sounds like what you did was probably ok, since it involved short distances. A couple of things to keep in mind:

With wetland plants in particular, it is easy to accidentally transport other attached organisms and pathogens into the new habitat. The longer the distance involved, the more risk there is of adverse consequences for the local ecosystem. Between continents, the outcome is usually not good.

With plants in general, there can be a risk of hybridization and consequent alteration of gene pools in the new habitat, if the plant is artificially brought within close proximity to another taxon with which it had not naturally developed barriers to interbreeding (other than geographic separation). One example in my region: Penstemon palmeri contains three subspecies that are fairly distinct morphologically and geographically. The most common of the subspecies, var. palmeri, has been widely adopted in the western U.S. as a component of reclamation seed mixes, and consequently has been spread well beyond its original native range in the eastern Great Basin and Mojave Desert. This has unfortunately brought it into close proximity with the rarest subspecies, var. macranthus, which is endemic to the northwestern part of the Great Basin in Nevada. If this continues, the likely outcome is increased hybridization with, and eventual loss of, var. macranthus as a distinctive genetic entity.

Would this be a bad thing? The honest answer is, we don’t know. To me that is reason enough to avoid creating such situations without a really good reason. Penstemon palmeri is pretty to see along roadsides and in other previously disturbed areas, but otherwise it does very little to actually help reclaim a piece of disturbed habitat, especially outside of its native range where more local taxa should be used instead.

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so why shy away from influencing the landscapes we call home in a positive way?

Because there is a very delicate balance between the organisms that populate a habitat, and a well-intentioned and seemingly harmless introduction could easily disrupt it over time.
Even if a species was once native to a certain region it shouldn’t be reintroduced casually as it might only belong in certain micro-habitats that may or may not still exist (what caused its local extinction in the first place?)
Of course not all reintroductions are bad, in some cases they can be very beneficial or even save a species, but it’s important to tread carefully and have very deep knowledge of local habitats.

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All really important points.

In addition, even not getting to the level of subspecies many of the better restoration organizations make an effort to keep their source material from the same watershed to help preserve genetic diversity and unique characteristics that fall below the subspecies level.

Obviously, that’s not always possible, but it’s a good effort to be making.

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I’m not familiar with the regulations in Europe, but here in the US depending on the location a formal notification of approval or permit may be required before outplanting of endangered or threatened species into natural areas. Voucher specimens or tissue samples may have to be deposited in a state repository for future reference. (None of this applies if you simply plant things on your own property.) One of the key concerns is the genetic make-up of the stock being planted. Usually plants that have gone through commercial propagation have been artificially selected in some way and are not suitable for augmentation of wild populations. There are also the above mentioned concerns with hybridization with any existing wild plants and the risks of inbreeding and/or outbreeding depression.

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There can be unforeseen consequences of what you are doing. It can screw up monitoring programmes. If someone is working to get legal protection for the last wild populations, it can undermine their efforts if introduced populations appear.

There is a rare limestone plant here in North Wales that occurs sporadically in disturbed ground, a ruderal. The local conservation bodies decided rather than protect the wild population, they would gather the seed, grow it on and plant it out on road cuttings. Easy, job done. Except the wild population persists by having seeds with variable dormancy, up to several decades. The ones planted out were the ones that germinated first year, so not a representative genetic sample of the population and probably lacking an important survival strategy of long dormancy.

Personally I don’t like introductions. I like wildlife to be wild. If I find a rare plant then it turns out someone has put it there, I feel cheated.

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I do not know where you live, but where I am (in the northeastern United States), most post-agricultural landscapes are significantly changed from their pre-agricultural state; the reintroduction of a native species that did or likely did occur on the site pales in comparison to the disturbance that has already happened (i.e. there is no “delicate balance” in these communities); I am not talking of introducing a species into a rare or relatively ‘pristine’ natural community. It seems to me (and correct me if I am wrong) that you don’t realize how difficult it is for a species to invade a ‘closed’ plant community in this region, regardless of whether it entered that community naturally or from intentional introduction, without some form of disturbance. A reintroduced rare aster isn’t going to disrupt a monoculture of tall goldenrod, nor is a bog orchid going to disrupt a sedge meadow. And why is disruption such a bad thing anyway? Natural disturbance happens all the time, creating niches for new species to enter and existing species to thrive. Native plant communities are constantly being disrupted, and I know of no native plant whose presence alone can have such an effect. A couple years ago, I stopped mowing a small area of lawn, which consisted entirely of a few non-native grasses. I planted a couple species of clonal goldenrods and milkweed, which are now spreading and replacing the grasses; what is so bad about disrupting the “delicate balance” of degraded sites like this?

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If a bird eats a seed and poops it out somewhere, it is spreading the plant species. Is a human purposely planting a species the same thing? What about if someone steps on a seed and it gets stuck in her/his hiking boot tread. Then, she/he drops it somewhere else hundreds of miles away. Is this OK? Are humans part of nature and part of the natural processes going on in the Earth?

Some people think humans should “let nature take its course” and not disturb/manage anything. But, every place humans can go including the recreational parks and nature preserves that are set aside are managed in some way.

These are difficult questions.

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My comment doesn’t specifically refer to the disturbed habitats where your rewilding efforts take place, it has more of a general scope.
As I said reintroductions aren’t always bad and can be in fact very beneficial, but they have to be pondered and practiced responsibly, even in disturbed areas.
Sometimes disturbance is part of the delicate balance that contributes to the survival of rare and delicate species. For example the delicate hydrophyte Baldellia ranunculoides thrives where tall marsh grasses are periodically cut. Some species only reproduce in bodies of water with little or no vegetation occurs, and introducing plants that would otherwise be unable to reach them could drive away the preexisting fauna. Such habitats are better left untouched.

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I do the same, and agree it is often vital, in NZ anyway, to do so, if the remaining amount of native floral diversity is to continue to exist, let alone increase. However I have many times noticed surprising uncommonly seen little native plants surviving beneath or among the grasses (or other weeds), and invertebrates, including endemic ones. So I agree also we need to observe very closely before, during and after making change, and to make change gradually. I like to maintain similar habitat, however degraded (often inorganic refuse, or tall stands of weeds) adjacent, to allow plants and critters to relocate, hopefully. I rarely use a spade, and I leave cut or pulled weeds as near as possible to their original location while they decompose.
Making change slowly allows even more observations, findings of new plants and critters.
And I dont even know how many fungi or lichens etc I may have impacted doing this. But provided ongoing monitoring and care results in increased diversity and increasingly intact native plant communities, I trust that it is overall positive.

I do see a lot of destruction of natives and of invertebrate habitat (eg weeds and refuse) with no positive result, and no learning from it, as the transient contractors and volunteers undertake “events” such as “weed clearing” and planting, without close prior survey, knowledge of little-known natives, care, or subsequent monitoring. In such cases the balance in a degraded area was indeed allowing more diversity than the result, and the result often allows increased concentrations of the more aggressive weed species that permits these to overtake adjacent areas that were relatively intact prior to the event.

So I think ongoing care of a small area by a very limited number of people, well informed beforehand, with an understanding of these issues and communicating closely throughout, is the key.

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And, in contrast, many captive breeding programs for endangered wildlife exchange animals from different locales in an effort to prevent inbreeding depression.

Considering past discussion threads here, i.e. “wilderness” is not really pristine at all, because indigenous peoples managed and influenced it – well, to the extent that this is true, are our activities today ecologically different? The Puget Prairies are a prime example: their unique flora only exists because indigenous people periodically burned them, preventing them reverting to forest. Yet today, that same flora is threatened, not by reversion to forest, but by new flora originating from Eurasia.

I wonder if the introduced populations could then get the same protection. Expanding the number of sites eligible for protection might not be such a bad thing.

That’s only partially correct. As much as possible the responsible captive breeders (AZA and WAZA members, for example) still try to keep the various sub-groups separate. The “Different locations” in those cases generally refers to captive populations in different locales that originally came from the same population/region, not animals that have different regions of origin.

In the past they were far less careful, but now there is a lot of attention paid to this issue.

Several examples are the Florida Panther (Puma concolor cougar) that was initially cross-bred with other puma populations, then that practice was stopped and subsequent breeding efforts have been focused on keeping that within the population.

“Ah, but that’s a subspecies, and is therefore different,” you might say, so another example is that of Rhesus macaques, (Macaca mulatta). This species is found from India across to northern Vietnam and southern China, and in the past captive populations were bred willy-nilly, but now there has been significant effort made to identify the regional origin of captive populations and keep the captive breeding within those regional populations.

This is a strategy that’s replicated widely among those doing responsible captive breeding, and is one of the reasons that detailed stud-book records are kept for captive animals.

This is an issue that crops up a lot in my work with Critically Endangered animals in the wild, and something I’ve had a number of long conversations about with people responsible for captive breeding of various species.

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While your intent may be good, I think you are playing with fire. Do you have experience or training as a botanist? If not have you consulted your native plant organization to involve them and ask for their input? Every single non native plant or virus/bacteria or organism attached to that plant has been introduced into an environment where it has caused massive damage. Before introducing anything into an environment, it is paramount to contact the experts first.

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The government’s response is more likely to be “It has recently appeared in four new sites. It is clearly thriving without protection.”

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