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Competing objectives in ecology

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the more knowledge we have, the more gray areas appear in the distinct divide between black and white.

It’s easy to identify n00bs because they have tidy, streamlined, carefully reasoned positions on big issues.  Logging?  Always bad!  Restoration activities?  Always good!  GMOs: bad.  Organic agriculture: good.

Meet burdock (Asteraceae: Arctium minus).  Or burr dock, if you so desire.

Burdock is a European introduction, a noxious weed in two states, and ubiquitous in North America.

Noxious and introduced?  Bad!

It’s also a source of nectar and pollen for foraging butterflies, bees, and wasps.

Food for beneficial insects?  Good!

It eats Ruby-crowned Kinglets (Regulus calendula).  Its flower heads are prickly, tangled and sticky and ensnare these tiny birds.

Bird eating weed?  Most definitely bad.  (The birds are common and not endangered if that makes you feel any better.  I know, it probably doesn’t.)

The tap root is tasty and the leaves have been used for a variety of medicinal purposes across a number of cultures.

Medicinal and delicious?  Good.  Invasives as a food source?  Even better.

The flower heads stick to fur and make pets sick if ingested.

Barfing dogs?  Très bad.

Here’s a good one: Burdock was the inspiration for Velcro.  True story.

You can see where I’m going with this.  Ecology isn’t easy.  It’s complex, and it’s always about competing objectives.  The ornithologists see one priority.  The farmers see another.  The botanists have an opinion, and so do the entomologists.  Citizens are enthusiastic opinionators, and the land manager is faced with a huge task: to manage the needs of the plant community and the animal community in line with prevailing ecological goals and economic mandates.

I would say here that I sure wouldn’t want that job, but I totally do.

_____

Sources:

[1] http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ARMI2&photoID=armi2_004_ahp.jpg#
[2] http://www.missouriplants.com/Pinkalt/Arctium_minus_page.html
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_de_Mestral
[4] http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/119/articles/demography

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