Jamie Steer

Dr Jamie Steer is interested in exploring and challenging current attitudes to biodiversity and conservation in New Zealand. He is particularly keen on spotlighting the assumptions behind our understandings of acceptable and unacceptable wildlife, and considering how these might come to change.

Biodiversity: Do non-native species count? - So Shoot Me

Feb 04, 2019

Should non-native species classify as a kind of biodiversity?  The answer, one would think, is straightforward and should be uncontroversial. We need look only to the international Convention on Biological Diversity to find it. And the definition there is clear: biological diversity (or ‘biodiversity’) is defined as: ‘the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.’ Unsurprisingly, it’s the same definition we use for our national biodiversity strategy here in New Zealand. Nativeness is not a determinant of whether something classifies as ‘biodiversity’. If it lives, it’s essentially in. Full stop. Why then has a scientist’s recent perspective that non-native species should be considered a form of biodiversity caused such angst? … Read More

The plague skink: Science or scaremongering? - So Shoot Me

Jan 22, 2019

Introduced species can cause significant changes in their receiving environments. For any new species, a wide range of effects can be contemplated – both positive and negative. In the absence of evidence, caution is surely needed. Introduced by accident in the mid-1960s, ‘plague skinks’ (Lampropholis delicata) have been known for all but about the last eight years as ‘rainbow skinks’ in New Zealand. I’ll get to that recent name change in a minute. For now I’m going to stick with calling them rainbow skinks. Rainbow skinks are tiny, egg-laying lizards. They live for about 2-4 years in the wild, enjoying busy, active little lives – munching bugs, sun basking and just generally keeping busy scuttling about the place. Anyone who has seen them around Auckland on a hot day will know that they are also super quick. First introduced … Read More

Predator Free 2050: What are the target species? - So Shoot Me

Jan 14, 2019

Answer: It’s not clear. Ambiguity over target species is counterproductive, both to the goal itself, and to the public’s ability to understand and monitor progress towards it. On 26 July 2016 the then National Government announced a plan to eradicate all of New Zealand’s rats, stoats and possums by 2050. The decision – including the species to be targeted – was recorded in a cabinet minute earlier that month. Background papers show that a range of species were considered for eradication, including all New Zealand’s mustelids (stoats, ferrets, and weasels) and rodents (three species of rats, and mice). However, the final recommendation taken to cabinet was to limit eradication to stoats, rats and possums.[1] This has duly been reflected in all subsequent Government communications on the Predator Free 2050 initiative. At the time of the … Read More

Post #1: My New Year’s resolution – write more posts! - So Shoot Me

Jan 03, 2019

It’s a New Year, and with it, time for a confession: my blogging output has been pretty bad. The good news is I’ve found a solution. Since joining the Sciblogs stable in March 2017 I’ve written a total of 17 posts. That’s less than one a month. And, in truth, it’s even worse than that because fully 13 of them were posted only last month. Frankly, it’s inadequate. And I’m jealous too. I look over at some of the other bloggers and they have numbers like 220 posts, 525 posts, and even 1645 posts (oh, get a life!). If this were a horse race these jockeys would be clear out in front. Scanning across the field your binoculars would next come to the ones in the middle, jostling for position. Then, a couple of hundred metres back, you see a … Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Concluding thoughts - So Shoot Me

Dec 24, 2018

I wanted to end now on a couple of final reflections and thoughts. First, I implore you as the next generation of ecologists to think critically about the assumptions of your disciplines. Don’t just blindly swallow the positions of your older colleagues, including me (OK, not so much me…). Restoration Ecology, in particular, was developed and propagated mostly by baby boomers who often still hold very dearly to it, and the assumptions that underpin it. But there’s an old saying that goes something like ‘science progresses one funeral at a time’, and as the boomers head into senescence over the next few decades, discussion in this space is likely going to ramp up. I’d implore you during this time not to nail your colours to the mast of an older generation; but instead to keep your mind open to … Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 10 – Winners never quit - So Shoot Me

Dec 23, 2018

Some final comments from my interview with Kim Hill:  ‘It’s a very defeatist way of looking at things, and I don’t buy it!’ ‘Please make him stop! He’s such a defeatist!’ ‘So, the answer is don’t care? Do whatever?!’  A lot of people who advocate for novel ecosystems and new approaches in ecology and our understandings of nature and the environment are labelled as defeatist. We’re losers; quitters. But again the very notion of defeatism shows just how one-sided the conversation has been to date. A lot of people really do have the belief that there is only one way of seeing in this space and that it would be unacceptable to consider different views. You often get this quite conceited assertion from New Zealand ecologists, in particular, that you’d have to be ignorant to think differently about … Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 9 – We have to do it - So Shoot Me

Dec 22, 2018

This is this idea that we either do this or something that we love dies – what might be referred to as ‘conservation at the barrel of a gun’. Here’s another collection of quotes from the feedback to Kim Hill again – the last one most notably being from one of New Zealand’s foremost conservation biologists: ‘By accepting many introduced species we also have to accept the loss of many of our unique native species’ ‘…if we accept the presence of introduced predators like rats, stoats, and possums, then we must say goodbye to NZ native birds, bats, lizards’ ‘The choice is simple – we save our most distinctive and valued species, OR we feed them to rats, stoats, etc’ But is all this hyperbole really true? I don’t think so. No, we can actually preserve most of our … Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 8 – Our ecosystems are going to collapse - So Shoot Me

Dec 21, 2018

Here are more comments from my interview with Kim Hill: ‘…each species we lose puts the entire ecosystem at risk of collapse’  ‘Without the species that are adapted to these native environments a whole ecosystem will eventually collapse’ Some people say that our ecosystems are going to collapse under the weight of introductions, that our ecosystems are essentially going to die. This is something that we’ve heard for many years now, particularly in the context of forest ecosystems; that they will surely collapse at some point in the near future and we’ll have deserts or something like savannas presumably. As the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment recently wrote: ‘…possums, rats and stoats … are bent on destroying our native forests…we cannot allow our forests to die’ (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 2011) It’s pretty scary stuff. But it really … Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 7 – We’re going to end up with a monoculture - So Shoot Me

Dec 20, 2018

Here are more comments from my interview with Kim Hill: ‘…we do not have to accept a future that sees our ecosystems as homogeneous with everything else, comprised of international tramp species and the few natives that can persist with them’ ‘…there’s a tonne of [introduced] plants out there that if we let go they’ll change landscapes and there’ll be nothing. I mean we’re talking monospecies…’ People are terrified that we are going to end up with a small number of cosmopolitan species (low diversity); that we’re just going to end up with rats, zebra mussels, brown tree snakes; that we’re going to lose our local and regional distinctiveness; and that introductions are ultimately going to be responsible for this diminution. Well, maybe. But in New Zealand what we can say is that we have introduced tens of thousands … Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 6 – Science: Tell us what to do - So Shoot Me

Dec 19, 2018

Many people have this idea that we just need to trust the scientists on this one. Science will tell us what to value so we should just leave it to them. Here are some comments again from my interview with Kim Hill: ‘This is not a cultural judgment about the value of different species but is a scientific one’ ‘Conservation science is a value framework?! Ummm – how about the ‘value’ of biodiversity and all the benefits that KEEPS US ALIVE on the planet’ ‘It’s not about values!!! It’s science’ But it’s important to remember that scientists also told us what to do during the acclimatisation era as well. We’ll recall that most of the acclimatisation societies around the country included scientists among their foremost members who were great advocates for introducing new species to New Zealand. At the … Read More