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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2 thoughts on “Competing objectives in ecology

  1. “Barfing dogs?  Très bad.”

    Thanks for making me choke on my Lucky Charms. As the Alpha Mom of a pack of Eight Rescued Canines, I agree. But as a citizen of the world, and bonified nature lover, I have an opinion too. What nature hath created; good. The fallout of Mans interference? Sometimes good; often bad.

    As haughty and superior-feeling creatures of the mind, we humans tend to save what we like and deforest whatever gets in our way. We shoot wolves when they eat into our profits, insecticide the he’ll out of bugs that do the same; ignoring the carcinogens we’re simultaneously pumping into our own blood streams. Farmers have a big lobby in congress, it seems. I’m not against them: I’m a vegetarian, after all. But I’m honest and I think we’re ultimately screwing ourselves AND nature when we take these matters into our own hands rather than letting what will be, be. Yes, I am happy when we can successfully bring a flora or fauna back from the brink of extinction. But I would bet dollars todonuts that more often than not it’s our own damn fault it got there in the first place.

    Just my two cents.

    Mmmmmm…. Donuts sound good.

    1. Once I had this idea for a book about man’s interference – the times it went horribly wrong when our intentions were ever so good, and the rare times our intentions were ambivalent, but the results were great.

      Then I came to my senses, and just hit one of my fingers with a hammer instead.

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