Against invasive plants, underdog natives hang on

Invasive might not be as bad as some environmentalists think –  from Tim De Chant  @ Per Square Mile – hold on tight we might be blasted by the fanatics….

Dianella ensifolia

One of the scourges of our globalized economy is invasive species. In California, annual Mediterranean interlopers have upended the state’s once perennial grasslands. The Australian outback has been blanketed with prickly pear cacti from the American Southwest. And wattles from Down Under are a scourge in South Africa. But as widespread as invaders are, we’re only just beginning to understand how they move around the globe, establish themselves, and reshape the ecosystems they disturb.

A key unsettled debate is whether or not invasive plants change patterns of biodiversity. Some studies have found that biodiversity suffers when nonnative plants arrive and take over. Others have found the opposite, that new species add to the mix rather than deplete or homogenize it. Well, the authors of a new paper published today in Science say both answers are right. According to them, it’s all a matter of scale.

Studies on invasive plants and biodiversity can generally be classified according to scale, small and large. Small scale studies pore over tiny patches of land, generally less than 25 square meters. In those cases, researchers have generally found that plant biodiversity suffers when invasives are present. Other scientists say that, on the large end of the scale, they see no difference.

In an attempt to reconcile these consistently disparate findings, Kristin Powell of Washington University in St. Louis and her colleagues sought to bridge both scales. They set up both large (500 m2) and small (1 m2) plots in Hawaii, Florida, and Missouri, each of which has its own problematic nonnative. In Hawaii, it’s the fire tree, Morella faya; in Florida the cerulean flax lily, Dianella ensifolia; and Missouri the Amur honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii. The study subjects run the gamut from overstory tree (fire tree) to mid-story shrub (honeysuckle) to understory herb (flax lily). Each state in the study has parts that are invaded and parts that are not, a fact which Powell and her colleagues used to their advantage by surveying plots on either side.

What they found is as nuanced as you might expect from a confused and messy situation involving the natural world. On small scales, the 1 m2 plots, they found that biodiversity was, in fact, lower. In the large plots, species richness was a slight bit lower, but it was close enough to be a wash. These results essentially jibed with those found by other scientists.

If you dig a little deeper, things get more interesting. They also found that ecosystems hosting invasive plants are generally more homogenous—the patchy pastiche you would normally expect just wasn’t there. But they’re not ecological clean rooms, either. Though diversity was down, there didn’t seem to be evidence of extinctions. Native plants may have disappeared from a large number of the smaller quadrats, but they typically weren’t absent from the larger plot. The diversity was there, it was just hiding among the invaders

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African Initiatives for 2013 that are worth looking into.

AFRICAN URBANISM

The new year is here, and with it, a new chapter full of new opportunities to explore, study and discuss urban development in African cities. This list spotlights a handful of initiatives, websites and projects  to look forward to in 2013.

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While traveling in Vietnam farm roads recently we saw this vehicle being made by a local farmer out of two scooters and a home made frame with a small tractor engine…..

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Ethnography Matters

imageEditor’s Note: When we started Ethnography Matters, we envisioned it to be a place where ethnographers could share updates from their fieldsites. Last month, An Xiao Mina shared her fieldnotes, Instagram Ethnography in Uganda – Notes on Notes. This month, Zach Hyman @SqInchAnthro shares his fieldnotes from his fieldsite in China.

Zach is based in Chongqing, China on a year long ethnographic dive into creative practices of vehicular design among resource-constrained users. After four months in the field, Zach shares with Ethnography Matters his first field update. 

His observations on low-tech vehicles are incredibly relevant for the current global shifts in automative production. China is now the largest car market. But many Western companies are discovering that simply transferring a car designed for Western users does not appeal to Asian users. Point in case GM’s Cadillac, a car built for American consumers fails to connect to Chinese consumers.  It’s…

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Stephen Muecke on Bruno Latour’s Modes of Existence

I have enjoyed what pieces of the book are available in English so far – here is a review

I am what I am attached to’: On Bruno Latour’s ‘Inquiry into the Modes of Existence’

RIGHT NOW IN PARIS, Bruno Latour is being fêted. “One of the great intellectual adventures of our epoch […] the Hegel of our times,” enthuses Patrice Maniglier in Le Monde, who finds him a much more entertaining read than the dour German.

Curious, the way the French worry about their intellectual standing, for which they use the English word, taking their philosophers to be the barometers of the national reputation. “Is France still thinking?” worries Le Magazine Littéraire, as it too comes up with Latour as a rare savior. His new book, Enquête sur les modes d’existence (An Inquiry into the Modes of Existence), sold out of the first print run of 4,000 in 10 days. But it is not just a book; it is also a project in interactive metaphysics. In other words, a book, plus website. (Unheard of! A French philosopher using the Internet!) Intrigued readers of Latour’s text can go online and find themselves drawn into a collaborative project (so far only in French, but the English web pages will be up soon, and Catherine Porter’s translation of the book will be out from Harvard University Press in the spring). Simply register on the site, and you are free to offer commentary, counter-examples, snippets of movies, images, whatever. You may possibly graduate to the status of co-researcher, and even be invited to a workshop in Paris down the line, to thrash out the thornier problems.

Collective collaboration — some would call it “crowdsourcing” — is rare in philosophy, but Latour, a sociologist and anthropologist by training, is used to collaboration with scientists. (He was one of the founders of the new field of science studies and a veteran of the “science wars” of the 1990s.) And An Inquiry into the Modes of Existence is not really philosophy as understood by the dustier denizens of the Sorbonne, where nearly everyone and his other is a phenomenologist. Latour’s subtitle is An Anthropology of the Moderns, and it continues the project he began with 1993’s We Have Never Been Modern, an anthropological account of western European culture, with serious metaphysical implications, that attempts to answer the question: who do we think we are? “We” — however vague that occidentalist umbrella term may be — are the ones whose style of modernization was destined to take over the rest of the world. But the project has hit a dead end: the planet itself is protesting, and we are going to have to think again about our technological, economic, philosophical “universals.” We will have to choose between modernizing and ecologizing, says Latour, a theme he has been sounding at least since 2004’s The Politics of Nature.

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