The case *against* killing spotted lanternflies?

@retromud, Although I agree with you to a limited extent, I disagree profoundly in other ways. I do agree that we will loose a lot of current biodiversity, no matter what we do. We’re going to have to deal with that. But on to disagreements.

First, I think each species has value. We aren’t just going to loose “biodiversity” but individual species (Wood Thrush, Seashore Daisy, Mantis Shrimp, etc.) with their own interesting traits, ways of life, adaptations, and interactions with other species.

Second, we don’t know what will survive the inevitable future catastrophes, which will continue to diversity, which will die out. True, we can make some guesses, but maybe Black Rails, for example, will thrive and diversity on our flooded coastlines – we just don’t know. Similarly, we don’t know which species losses will cause of cascade of extinctions and changes that harm us, and which the ecosystem will close over almost as if they had never been. Therefore, I think keeping as many taxa around as possible is a good precaution.

Third, although your trust in human inventiveness and our actual, practical choice to replace needed biodiversity we loose is touching, I think it is misplaced. We’ll produce new species (we’ve already produced some) but I think our good intentions will cause more negative than positive side effects. So I view keeping systems that are reasonably stable is wise. (We probably won’t do that, either, but I think we should try.)


I agree! Categorizing species as specialists or generalists seems to be central to @retromud 's viewpoint. I agree that the effects of losing a particular species are likely to be higher for generalists than for specialists, although I think there are also likely to be many exceptions to the general rule. Whether a species is a generalist or a specialist, though, is not necessarily constant over time.

We might think about ecology in terms of an abstract “niche space”, the range of potentially available ecological variation. The niche space has many dimensions, representing all of the potential variables that affect the ability of taxa to survive & reproduce. For instance, average annual temperature and average annual precipitation would be a couple of these variables. Any given segment of the abstract niche space, then, exists on some subset of the physical landscape. In New Mexico, for instance, the cold and wet part of the two-dimensional niche space defined by the axes of temperature and precipitation exists in small, more or less isolated patches at high elevations in our larger mountain ranges. So we can define the breadth of the niche occupied by a taxon by the range of values in relevant ecological variables (e.g., 40 to 45 inches of average annual precipitation) and the spatial area where those conditions exist (e.g, 28 square miles).

Viewed in those terms, we might say that a specialist is a taxon that occupies a portion of niche space that is either small (compared to the areas of niche space occupied by other taxa) or rare on the landscape. The niche space is continually changing, at least a little, as a given taxon evolves. The size and location of the part of the physical landscape corresponding to a particular part of niche space, also, is continually changing. A taxon that is a specialist now may become a generalist as it and the landscape change, and vice versa. In the longer term, if we consider speciation as well as evolution within a species, I don’t think we know if the breadth of niche space occupied by a species at present allows us to predict the likely breadths of niche space occupied by its daughter species.


Sterile Insect Release Method seems to had success at eradicating Cochliomya homnivorax (screw worms) from a large part of North and Central America:

The Sterile Insect Release Method and Other Genetic Control Strategies

The US portion of the screwworm eradication program started in Florida in 1957 and by 1966 all self-sustaining screwworm colonies in the US were eliminated. However re-infestations from flies migrating from Mexico compromised the program, so in 1972 a joint United States-Mexico program was initiated. This program enabled Mexico to be officially declared free of screwworms in 1991, Belize and Guatemala in 1994, and El Salvador in 1995. Honduras is considered technically free of screwworms since no flies have been detected since January, 1995. The ultimate goal of a proposed United States-Central America project is to maintain a sterile insect barrier at the Darien Gap in Panama starting in 1997.

SIT has also seen some success in Australia to combat fruit fly species:

Sterile insect technique for fruit fly control

The first use of sterile insect technique in Western Australia was against Mediterranean fruit fly (Medfly) in Carnarvon in 1978. Sterile insects combined with baiting successfully eradicated Medfly from the Carnarvon area by 1984. Unfortunately, lack of quarantine barriers meant it soon re-invaded.

In 1989 a special factory was built to produce sterile Queensland fruit flies to fight a large outbreak in Perth. This was successful and by 1991 Queensland fruit fly had been eradicated from Western Australia.

Sterile Medfly bred in Western Australia have been used to eradicate eight fruit fly outbreaks in South Australia since 2001. In some countries, sterile fruit flies are released continually to prevent establishment of wild flies.

Another exaxmple of SIT working seems to be Bactrocera cucurbitae (melon flies) in Okinawa, Japan:

Eradication of the Melon Fly, Bactrocera cucurbitae, from Okinawa, Japan, by Means of the Sterile Insect Technique, with Special Emphasis on the Role of Basic Studies

An ambitious attempt was made over the period from 1972 to 1993 to eradicate the melon fly, a pest species that invaded Okinawa, Japan, around 1919, using the sterile insect technique (SIT). With every intellectual and technical effort, and after releasing about 50,000 million sterile flies, this pest was completely eliminated.

SIT has also been used in efforts to eradicate Pectinophora gossypiella (pink bollworm) populations:

Transgenic cotton and sterile insect releases synergize eradication of pink bollworm a century after it invaded the United States

We report a successful multitactic strategy for combating the pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella), one of the world’s most invasive pests. A coordinated program in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico included releases of billions of sterile pink bollworm moths from airplanes and planting of cotton engineered to produce insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). An analysis of computer simulations and 21 y of field data from Arizona demonstrate that the transgenic Bt cotton and sterile insect releases interacted synergistically to reduce the pest’s population size. In Arizona, the program started in 2006 and decreased the pest’s estimated statewide population size from over 2 billion in 2005 to zero in 2013. Complementary regional efforts eradicated this pest throughout the cotton-growing areas of the continental United States and northern Mexico a century after it had invaded both countries.

SIT isn’t the only technique being pursued, with the following two sites mentioning other strategies.

I have yet to read it, but Sterile Insect Technique: Principles and Practice in Area-Wide Integrated Pest Management (2005; Dyck, Hendrichs, Robinson, eds.) is 799 pages and may offer other examples.


Do you know how stable ecosystem works?


I’m gonna show this thread to my AP Environmental Science teacher and he is going to cry. :smiling_face_with_tear:


I like your enthusiasm, but how is damaging maple trees not a problem for the forests?

I’m not sure there is such a thing. Temporarily stable, maybe.

Most varieties of commercially produced tomatoes are extremely resource intensive, they require a tremendous amount of fertilizer and pesticides to grow into the products you see at your local market.

All stability is temporary.

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Different branch of life, but that reminded me a bit of the Great Emu War, of which the same could also be concluded.

+1 - it’s a slippery slope for all native ecosystems to eventually become degraded with ecological consequences we cannot anticipate. I understand the distaste towards squashing bugs or killing any life, but let’s be clear eyed that these are disastrous anthropogenic effects and we should be stewards trying to undo those effects as much as possible and keep wild ecosystems wild. The more humans interfere, the more degraded habitats become - keep them wild!


Every species is precious and thank god for conservation efforts we have incredible species like the Devil’s hole pupfish hanging on that have no economic significance but nevertheless are part of what make our world so magical. These critters evolved into niches for millions of years, and we are coming in like a bull in a china shop and snuffing out all these beautiful evolutionary pathways, how should that make us feel? It’s speciesist to call any precious species a “buffer” as we should try our darndest to keep robust ecosystems intact so we don’t need to lose any of them! And yes, that may mean we have to give up some consumeristic tendencies and live simpler - a life in harmony with nature. Check our George Monbiot’s “Regenesis” for a sketch of how a rewilded earth could look like if we can dispense with modern agriculture practices and treat our earth and precious co-inhabitants with LOVE!


Man I just have so much to say in this thread. I think the article is out, and it is, predictably, far less dramatic and sensational than people assumed it would be from the outset.

I think people need to seriously question the motivations behind the reasoning of “invasion biology” instead of just taking it for dogma. It shows in how people discuss things. They treat biodiversity as an innate, objective “goal” and not an arbitrary moral determination by humans (life will continue as long as even a single living species persists). They don’t even question this for a second, because it never crosses their minds.

What is the goal, precisely? WHY, precisely, is that the goal? What are some alternative reasonable goals we can have? Should we have ANY goals? Why are we really doing this? Not because Dr. Science Man said so; that is not even close to an acceptable justification for undertaking a massive global campaign (though I am not dismissing scientists; the brave mavericks resisting invasion biology are some of my primary sources of information on this).

Ecosystems are always changing. They are already ravaged around the world. For example, people regularly bring up the trope of Native Americans being stewards of the environment and that we should learn from their traditions. Maybe we should. But we seem to lose sight of the fact that North America was ALREADY catastrophically impacted by human arrival. So which environments are we preserving? What “stage” do we want to return to? A truly non-human-influenced stage is impossible to recover, because of thousands of species extinctions.

Add climate change into the mix and, even if humans didn’t transport a single species, we would still have a massive number of “invasives” from natural population movements. There is just so much here to talk about and this is the tip of the iceberg. People seriously need to think about exactly what they want to achieve and exactly how they want to achieve it a lot more seriously. We will NEVER undo the modern distribution of species entirely. So what is the goal? Where do we stop? This is just an impossible game of catch-up. It’s like trying to rebuild a demolished building out of pebbles. Maybe just let nature handle things herself, as she has done successfully (if success is maintaining life) for 3.8 billion years.

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Have you ever step foot in a pristine old-growth forest or ecosystem untarnished by modern human impact? Have you reveled in the glory of a majestic coral reef and all its inhabitats? Have you walked the Amazon rainforest and heard the sounds and seen the sights of life abounding all around you? Contrast this with a logged/secondary growth forest with its precious mycelial web of “entangled life” disrupted irreparably by logging and the harmony disturbed permanently by weeds and introduced insects thereof. Contrast this with coral bleaching and an ocean increasingly bereft of life due to overfishing. Contrast this with an Amazon jungle that is increasingly imperiled by logging and anthropogenic induced destructions that are unprecedented at any reasonable time scale.

That is precisely why biodiversity is worth saving: so posterity can enjoy these precious places and wonder at the awe of nature just as I’ve been fortunate enough to have, to say nothing of the speciesist tendencies of man who puts themselves ahead of everything else on this earth and forgets it is our very origin after all.

The goal - in my mind - is to reach a homeostasis between man and nature, one of mutual respect like that reached by the native american people (who yes, did make things go extinct, but after some time, did reach a kind of homeostasis that lasted 10s of thousands of years). With the ideas put forth in George Monbiot’s “Regenesis” we can do it. We can end modern agriculture and concomitant ecological destruction, and still feed humans and thrive alongside nature, not in lieu of it.


I’m coming more from a place of ignorance here, but besides the human desire of “the more, the better”, I think with biodiversity, the more makes an ecosystem more resilient. For example, monocultures are more susceptible to external threats: How Fast Does Emerald Ash Borer Kill Trees in Our Forest? In this case, the dead wood decays, possible increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, less biodiversity if something is made of a few invasive species makes for a weakosystem?

Edit: Underlying assumption is that invasives tend to dominate and overtake natives, forming monocultures. It seems to work like this with plants, not sure if it’s true for other life.

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I agree with most of what you said, and I sympathize with the motivations you have. I do like Monbiot’s thoughts on these subjects and will look into that book, seems right up my alley!

I, of course, like everyone here, love nature. Nature and it’s inhabitants have been my obsession since before I could read. And a homogeneous world comprised only of a few hardy species would be far less enjoyable and magical.

But far less enjoyable for whom? Is it actually morally relevant that the world is less majestic or graceful? This I think is maybe even the main point. Conserving biodiversity is not an innate or objective “good”, we do it rather because we just prefer a more speciose world. And that’s fine, but we should think carefully before trying to enact that goal, and not supersede other moral considerations. For example, to me, a species that is the last of its kind being killed is precisely the same as a house mouse being killed, morally speaking. The only reason 99% of people would say the extinction is far worse is human aesthetic preference. The animals do not know what a “species” is.

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I love the term “weakosystem”, haha. I do think invasive plants almost always rely quite heavily on human disruption though. I do think some, maybe kudzu being an example, can infiltrate less damaged ecosystems as well, but if there is a field absolutely covered in invasive plants, I would bet it was cleared, developed, etc beforehand


Glad we could find common ground :). I guess I’m troubled by the anthropocentric perspective: Who - after all - is there to speak up for other critters that co-inhabit this earth for us? Call me an idealist (and I am) - but can we not find a solution where man and nature can live in harmony, rather than one exploiting the other? I’m not proposing we go back to the stone ages, rather, I’m proposing we uplift voices like Monbiot who put forth a bold vision of how we can use the best parts of technology and rewild most of the planet. It’s a philosophical perspective and one that asks us to look in the mirror and find a more harmonious and less destructive path forwards.

I just cannot get behind this argument of aesthetics. It’s crazy to me. Everything in the natural world plays a unique role. It strengthens the web of life. If we start to eliminate those strands, the web gets weaker. Putting aside my moral arguments and “plea for the animals” above, this is crazy from a conservation perspective and will lead to ecological degradation which - in the anthropocentric sense - only hurts humans. So it’s a lose-lose in both cases.


Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera) does this in the US southeast. I have personally seen it invading coastal prairie creating a monoculture were there were previously no or very few trees. Also where there is disturbance, it uses chemical warfare to keep other tree species from sprouting. No way to get rid of it entirely since people still plant it. It’s very popular for its fall colors and for the honey from bees who feed on it.


While probably true of most terrestrial plants, it’s important to note that many aquatic invasive plants can easily degrade “pristine” wetlands where they are introduced.