Residency status for archaeophyte and neo-native plants

I don’t agree that you, in Europe, can treat 1492 as the cut-off date, before which a species, that you had in any part of Europe before that date, could be called “native” to that area, in the way we, in the Americas, can use 1492, when the first European, Columbus, arrived with the beginning of world shipping, can treat a species found in any given area of the Americas before that date, as native to that area. Columbus, and following Europeans, had the goal of profiting from bringing materials to Europe, and moving materials, from around the world, to and from the Americas. This was the date, after which, there was regular transport of people, and materials, back and forth between the Americas, and the rest of the world, with, I expect, a majority of the species transported to the Americas unintentionally, as a byproduct of that global transport of people and goods. It was also after this date that people and materials were moved around within the Americas, at a rate they had never been moved here before, also largely driven by monetary profit. The species that arrived, from the rest of the world to new communities in the Americas, have mostly negatively the affected the American natural communities they weren’t co-evolved with.

I also expect even those species that arrived with the earliest European shipping, say 400 - 530 years ago, mostly still largely continue to negatively affect American natural communities that were not co-evolved with them. There would of course would be some percentage of the earlier immigrant species no longer doing net harm to American natural communities, and exceptions that are now needed by earlier community members that have come to depend on the immigrant species. Many older immigrant species could have already done the majority of their harm, and are less of a threat than newer immigrants.

And, no doubt, the first humans arriving from Asia tens of thousands of years ago, or later Native Americans, or the Vikings, could have transported species before 1492 that negatively affected the communities they were brought to, but that process was much less, and much slower, than the world shipping that came with the Europeans, and I believe that shipping driven by monetary profit, (unlike the American Indians with no monetary system) sped up the process. The slower process, mostly a longer time ago, of transport of fewer species, by the American Indians and Vikings, would have allowed local communities, to which they were brought, more time to adapt to them.

No doubt you have some species in Europe that were transported by humans before 1492, that to one degree, or another, have since become co-adapted with pre-existing community members, and to some degree have co-evolved with preexisting local community members, and are no longer presenting net harm to the communities they arrived in, but I expect many, to most, of those are still negatively affecting local community members that were not co-evolved with those immigrant species.

My post was intended as a reply to this comment, but I couldn’t figure out how to move it here.

After working on the whole above post, I realized how foolish it was, because in 1492 Europe was subject to the same movement of goods around the world as the Americas.

That said, I think Europe, with agriculture and a monetary system, driving movement of goods around the Old World of Eurasia and Africa before 1492, would have had more movement of species together with agriculture and commerce before that time than the Americas before 1492, without a monetary system, and with agriculture possibly limited to corn in Central and South America, and llamas in South America.

But Americas and well, any place, had people who travelled huge distances for a single person, if we now find artefacts of such movements, likely some plants and insects travelled with them too, it’s hard to find an organism which range wasn’t affected by humans.


I suppose that you are referring to the exploration around Africa to the Indies, in which species could be transported. And earlier than that, invasions by Asiatic peoples such as the Huns.

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The 1492 cut-off works well for the Americas, but Europe was always in contact with other continents and received invasive plants and animals (including Homo sapiens) over a long period of time.

And of course native Americans introduced species into new areas within the Americas. We can detect obvious cases like maize (Zea mays) and tobacco (Nicotiana sp.), but other examples are more subtle, like the range expansion of sweet flag (Acorus) into the Great Plains. Still, 1492 makes a good cut-of for introductions into (or out of) the Americas.

Did ancestors of native Americans bring species over the Bering Strait into North America? Well, they brought the dog. As far as other species go, these people were part of a holarctic biome at the time, so distinguishing anything they might have brought from what got here on its own would be difficult.

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For the most part, I hadn’t been thinking properly, when I made my original post on this. I think we in North America (and maybe South America) may have a tendency to think that most of the invasion of alien species was due to the European transport of material to and from the Americas, with much of it more like robbery, than “trade”, and for a moment I forgot that these European shippers were transporting goods and alien species to Europe after 1492, to a much greater degree than before that, with the start of intercontinental shipping. (Which I corrected in a following post). That said, as I alluded to in that following post, I do believe that Europe had more transport of materials and alien species before 1492 than the Americas, driven by a monetary system, that the Americans didn’t have yet, and agriculture, that was mostly limited to corn in Central and South America, and a few llamas in the South American Andes before 1492.

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With the caveat that there may have been some traffic between the Americas and Polynesia, even if you don’t fully buy into Thor Heyerdahl’s theories.

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And great civilizations before them, even if we take recent eamples, how rising of one empire or another affected the species? We’re getting new introductions of car and train wheels now, then they would come with hay or just with stuff people transported back and forth, there were so many great ways (like the route from the Varangians to the Greeks) of that that went through thousands of kilometres. After all, focus on continents shouldn’t be a main one, as you describe, there were many with one big region, and humans used ships and boats long before the XV century with rivers being as crucial as seas, if not more sometimes.


True. Hard to pin down what the trade involved, but apparently tapa cloth, or how to process it, came from South America.

Thank you all for the insightful comments. I read with interest your discussion about the situation in North America that, shamefully, didn’t make me think earlier. To wrap up, I think on both sides of the Atlantic, we can agree that 1492 was a cornerstone. Its exact date is not important on its own but symbolic as it captures the message: from the historical event of making connection between Europe and North America the movement of species reached a much higher level than earlier in the temperate zone, due to the start of intensive intercontinental transportation of goods. Why America and Europe? The connection between Africa and Europe is not so relevant because rather few (sub-)tropical species can settle in the temperate zone, except in the Mediterranean parts. Between Europe and the close parts of temperate Asia there are no borders that could limit human-assited dispersal of plants, thus in this direction the transportation was rather regular. Moreover, connections were made several times with the Far East along the history, see the Silk Routes, Marco Polo etc. So, probably many species that could have come from Asia to Europe, have already arrived by 1492. The core of my question is how we should look at species that probably arrived at new areas before this date. As you clearly state, there is much unclarity around the origin of species that are obviously not newcomers. I scrolled through a list of archeophyte species of Hungary and found that most (cca. 95%) of these species behave as pioneers on natural habitats, weeds with narrow ecological range or disturbance tolerant plants on meadows and forest edges. Some of them are even protected! And there are some species that behave very similarly to neophytes, even to invasive ones. So, there is large variation, but I would say that most archeophyte species behave as parts of the native flora, unlike neophytes. Probably, we falsely consider some species native, not archeophyte. Thus I still think that by calling archeophytes as “Introduced” we lose important ecological information.
Apart from researchers of phylogeography, why would people, especially amateurs, be interested in the place of origin of species if this information has no ecological implication because they do not differ significantly from the native species?
So, why does iNaturalist differentiate according to nativity? What is the purpose of this? As I see, even in European checklists, archeophyte species are typically not considered introduced. This is wrong from the viewpoint of iNat but very reasonable otherwise.

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Pragmatically, “achaeophtyes” and “neo-natives” give us more terms and more ambiguity—it’s more difficult to figure out which category is appropriate.

It depends on where we need to use them. In general, I don’t think they are less pragmatic. These are still a manageable number of categories, and they are more specific so that we can choose a more suitable one than from fewer, coarser categories. More specifically in iNaturalist, I am not insisting on introducing archaeophyte and neo-native categories. In my opinion, the best would be to redefine the Introduced category (or add another category) as arrived by means of human vector SINCE 1492. Maybe “Alien” species, in contrast to the earlier human-brought species, most of which now don’t really behave as aliens among native species.

When more specificity is needed, of course the terminology should follow. If using the term “archaeophyte”, though, we would have a distinction between “got here on its own” and “got here by way of people” with its gray area, plus a new distinction between “got here by way of people recently” and “got here by way of people a long time ago”, with its gray area. So, more axes on which we encounter ambiguity.

In the U.S., as @sedgequeen mentioned “pre-1492” vs. “post-1492” categorization is often used in practice, but this wouldn’t really be applicable elsewhere. I think people generally make an exception for obviously cultivated plants, though, especially those that do not persist outside of cultivation. It would seem very odd to me to say that Zea mays is native, for instance. If using additional terms, I suppose we would have to decide if it is an archaeophyte, perhaps on the basis of whether the Zea mays currently cultivated is close enough to the form cultivated a thousand years ago.

Another rule of thumb that I think ought to be applied but often isn’t is this: For species whose geographic distributions have likely changed over the last few hundred years, if there are no natural barriers between where a species is found now and where it was found absent any known human meddling, it should be considered native throughout. For instance, Solanum elaeagnifolium is clearly native to the southwestern U.S., but is often considered introduced in California. I don’t think we really know whether it was in California prior to European arrival, but to me the absence of significant geographic barriers is the elephant in the room—I think we have to assume it could have got there on its own. If there was a significant human role, it was likely related to creation of suitable disturbed habitats, not in transport. This might fall into the “neo-native” category, although we would have to answer the question of whether it was present in California prior to European arrival to tell. Given available evidence, I think we can get to a reasonable answer to “native or introduced”, but likely not to “native or neo-native”.

Still, I do think that it would be straightforward, even within iNaturalist, to apply the additional axis of recency of arrival with the cost of some increase in the number of ambiguous cases, because this would better correspond with robust ecological patterns, than using only the mode of introduction. Actually, I think the time is more important than the mode.

Sorry, for me no way for archaeophytes. What about Arundo donax, which is an archaeophyte in most old world countries and almost everywhere invasive, as a resident species? The same for Vitis vinifera subsp. vinifera which can act as a locally impacting invader.
Regarding the other archaeophytes, despite in some cases they provide useful ecological services, where they have been introduced their conservation is not as important as where they are native.
Archaeophytes as plants species introduced before 1492 is just a man-made definition. It has nothing to do with ecology but it usually works in separating less problematic aliens (exept Arundo and few others) from those that are possibly more problematic, the neophytes.

Neo-natives to me seems just a superfluous name. There is already the class of cryptophytes which are plant species that occur in areas where their native status is doubtful. Otherwise, a plant species is either native or introduced by humans.
Cases of somehow enygmatic distribution have been observed and they have been sometimes explained with very long-distance seed dispersal (e.g. for orchids). But this is still a natural mean of dispersal.

Well, I am not defending archaeophytes blindly, just saying that in the science of European flora and vegetation, this is a thing (Thellung 1918-1919, Preston et al. 2004, La Sorte & Pysek 2009, Essl et al. 2021). You have the right to think differently, of course. :) However, it would be hard to deny that there are some general patterns of archaeophytes, that are not valid for neophytes at a group level. One example is La Sorte et al. (2014). But you also mentioned one: the possibility of turning invasive. There are exceptions and similarities between them, of course, and there is no clear boundary between archaeophytes and neophytes, but they do have some common biological properties, which are common among them and rare among others.
Anyway, you would always find exceptions if you categorize species according to the origin, distribution, ecological preference, etc. By using such categories, we usually don’t state that they are perfect and universal, we just say that there is some pattern across the elements they classify, and we can catch it using these categories relatively easily with a tolerable error.
Actually, in my country, neither Arundo donax, nor Vitis vinifera is problematic. The case of Vitis is especially instructive. We have rich tradition of viticulture based on Vitis vinifera, but the invasive taxa are those that originated from North America and their hybrids.

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For what it’s worth, at this point I don’t really have an opinion either way regarding potential changes to iNaturalist. I think the increased ambiguity if more options were added would increase the workload to keep residency status accurate and curated, but that isn’t of itself a reason not to adopt a change. I think it’s just something to be aware of and perhaps plan for.


I can add that I have started to think that also the cathegory of archaeophytes is somehow sometimes abused. As regards, there are surely true archaeophytes that have become established before 1492. But there are also “archaeophytes” that have been continuously newly introduced after 1492. In this light, there could remain few true archaeophytes.
Note that there are also archaeophytes that are newly found, which is a nonsense.
As written before, archaeophyte is a definition based on a convention.

Arundo donax is a real problem here. It has replaced the flora of river banks in many areas and its eradication is unfeasable. So no one talks about it.

Actually, this is spot on!