By Jamie Steer 20/12/2018 8


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 of species, something over 26,000 plants, nearly 30 mammals, over 30 birds, tens of freshwater fish, hundreds of invertebrates, and so on.

Yet these additions have not led to corresponding extinctions and most of the extinctions that have occurred to date have been due to overharvesting and habitat loss. That’s not to say that competition and predation are not factors in the extinction of species too, but simply to stress the point that they are usually factors in association with a range of others.

The case for diversity

And our ecological understandings of what happens when you introduce species have changed too. We used to think that highly diverse ecosystems were able to repel invaders. But it turns out it’s not true. Highly diverse native ecosystems tend to also have high numbers of introduced species. So diversity itself seems to be no protection from change.

This is not to say that that diversity is necessarily a good thing, of course. Many native ecosystems, for example, have comparatively low levels of diversity – native beech forests and raupō wetlands being a couple of cases in point. The very idea that diversity is good is, of course, another value judgment. What we can say however is that species richness has increased on a local, regional, and national level due to introductions in New Zealand and elsewhere around the world.

Global species richness has declined, sure enough, but as British ecologist Chris Thomas recently noted, we don’t yet know if that may come to be counterbalanced to some extent by the evolution of new genes, varieties, and species. And studies in recent times of rapid evolution in human-influenced environments seem to show that speciation, whether through divergence, hybridisation or other mechanisms, may be happening much faster than we once thought.

Read the next instalment here. Or begin at the start of this series.

Featured image © Creative Commons.


8 Responses to “From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 7 – We’re going to end up with a monoculture”

  • Hi Jamie.

    “The very idea that diversity is good is, of course, another value judgment.”

    Isn’t this stopping short of the point in some ways, though? Surely the presence of biodiversity, or lack of it, can be objectively expanded into many possible and likely outcomes which can then be evaluated, even if we don’t know exactly what might happen. The presence or lack of biodiversity is a thing, but isn’t it the likeliness of consequences of it that we should be making value judgements on? What happens when not everyone clearly understands those consequences or their probabilities, and maybe some people are actively spreading lies to influence the value judgements of others?

    From there I’d go back to my comment on your previous post in the series. To what extent should we weight the value judgements from people if those value judgements are being made without a clear understanding of the consequences, and how do we encourage people to be clearly informed when making their judgements? Is it even ethical to encourage people to be clearly informed?

    If the house is burning down (extreme example) and the fire service shows up, but some of the flatmates are arguing that they want to make sure the bedrooms are left on fire because it’s keeping them warm and they also don’t want to get wet, should they be listened to? Why not just leave the whole house burning? Cooking would be cheaper and we could open a restaurant and profit! But hey, value judgements about fire. Maybe some people think it’s a great idea for the house to be on fire because they perceive some short term gain.

    • This is another really good question Mike. One reason it is good is because it is quite high level and conceptual. In saying that, I’m also finding it a bit tricky to bring it down to a level of specificity to which I can respond. Two things stand out for me. One is your fairly clear suspicion (e.g., ‘actively spreading lies’, ‘short term gain’) that those who challenge some facets of conservation orthodoxy might be doing so for nefarious reasons. The other is your belief (and correct me if I’m misinterpreting you) that criticisms stem from ignorance, whether of consequences or something else. Can you elaborate a bit on these?

  • So what, exactly, do you think of the native/endemic animal disappearances that have undoubtedly occurred as a result of the depredations of pest mammals, and nothing else, Jamie? How about when ship rats reached Big South Cape Island in the 1960s and drove the last of the South Island snipes, Stead’s bush wrens, and greater short-tailed bats to extinction? Or when a stoat killed the entire reintroduced population of South Island saddlebacks at Orokonui Ecosanctuary? Or when a stoat killed all of the marsh crakes and spotless crakes at a site at Ahuriri Estuary in Napier, just last year? Are these just examples of the ‘beautiful ecosystem change’ that you so admire?
    And what about when pests reach otherwise pest-free sanctuaries and much effort is put into killing them before they can start killing the protected species that live in the sanctuaries? Like when tens of traps were deployed to kill a weasel in Zealandia Ecosanctuary not so long ago? Do you think it would be better to do nothing and let these pests ‘have their fun’?

    -SG

  • Hi Jamie. I’ll stick with 1080 because it’s where I’ve had most experience and there’s a lot of overlap with the areas you’re addressing. I hope you can excuse the rantiness.

    First off I’d be interested to know what you think of Geoff’s claim in another thread that “there is no proof whatsoever that TB is being spread by possums”. https://sciblogs.co.nz/so-shoot-me/2018/12/23/from-restoration-to-reconciliation-belief-10-winners-never-quit/#comment-366018 Do you agree with this with your ecology background? To me it’s incorrect, and yet it’s a line that commonly pops up in circles where people are arguing that controlling possums is unnecessary. If it were a fact-based argument then maybe one could argue that it’s morally okay to let possums exist with TB and deal with consequences in some other way, but is it right to build and justify your moral view on an active belief that they don’t spread TB if that’s not actually real?

    I don’t know if you’ve ever browsed some of the social media spaces which act as hubs for the anti-1080 sentiments. If not then I’d suggest spending a few minutes browsing a group like Facebook’s 1080 eyewitness – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1080.eyewitness/ . I wouldn’t suggest too long, but really that’s up to you.

    Between the general advocacy and spreading of hate and distrust messages against DOC and government generally, there are frequently repeated statements in groups like this such as “1080 kills everything”, “1080 kills kiwi”, “1080 contaminates water supplies”, people posting photos of dead animals with a caption implying “1080 did this” as *proof* that it did, yet with zero info to verify anything, claims that it’s all about corruption and money, and the list goes on.

    The pattern is that there’s a predetermined conclusion, and from that point all discussion is about finding and inventing reasons to justify it. Instead of challenging it, people look for reasons to dismiss and ignore reasons to challenge it. Maybe it the same sort of thing you’re arguing about except from another side?

    Liars? There are several particular people who repeatedly pop up in these forums and are almost certainly making stuff up and saying it. It’s an easy thing to be believed when the mob is judging stuff by its consistency with a conclusion that readers desperately want to believe instead of the robustness of how it was reached.

    For a more specific example I’d suggest considering Clyde Graf and how he constantly bangs on about 1080 killing kiwi. Seven years ago got to the point that DOC had to issue a press release describing how he’d completely misrepresented an OIA response he received ( https://www.doc.govt.nz/news/media-releases/2011/1080-kiwi-claims-extremely-misleading/ ), and yet Clyde’s TV Wild source tends to be the primary source that anti-1080 advocates cite if they ever cite anything when pressed for reasoning behind claiming 1080 killing kiwi. Graf already has a dishonesty offence (armed bank robbery in Queensland in the 80s for which he was sentenced to 10 years in jail). Without wanting to get into a detailed dissection I’m personally convinced he knows that he’s making stuff up and bending the truth, and yet his Poisoning Paradise film and other material forms the basis of justification that many people use for their anti-1080 moral views.

    I can stomach that people have different moral views. Some people enjoy hunting. Some people like walking their dogs. Ask people in some communities and they might say that if 1080 touches their water then they won’t go near it for 5 years because they don’t want to drink from a water source that’s been in the vicinity of a toxin. I also know people who refuse to touch spiders because they can’t stand the look, even when they’re relatively harmless. Okay — we’ll need to figure out how to resolve this conflict of moral ideas and work through it.

    But browse online and you’ll find people carelessly and forcefully pushing their moral views with incorrect information in a factual argument, such as by outright denying the science and blurting out that 1080 doesn’t rapidly dilute and then doesn’t break down. You’ll see people bringing up decade-old cases of unresolved heart attacks and saying “1080 did it”! In November 2016 when two Tararua trampers died of hypothermia, but certain factors were misreported in a way that obscured the most intuitive and likely explanation, the word “mystery” popped up somewhere early on and immediately the fashion in the silos was to start questioning if 1080 had done it because there was no proof presented that it hadn’t. There hadn’t been a drop and the claims made no sense whatsoever, yet as with so many others this one does the rounds every few months.

    This isn’t just about people misunderstanding information. It’s also about people actively spreading rubbish information, whether making it up themselves or simply believing someone else’s, both to justify their moral views and also to convince others to agree with them. People choose what to trust based on what they want to believe, and then find excuses to distrust what they don’t want to believe. (Going back to 1080 eyewitness, observe in that group of 22000 members how much general hate and vitriol is being sown against DOC. The recent headlines are about DOC workers being abused and getting death threats and loosened wheel nuts which almost certainly breed in this atmosphere. The depth of it, however, is that a much larger number of people are looking for excuses to dismiss anything and everything DOC says and does.) And increasingly frequently, this rubbish is leaking out into the real world.

    I figure a definition of a moral view is something where two people can consider the same facts with the same understanding, but come to different conclusions of what they want. Is this a reasonable definition in your view?

    But it’s not what we’re seeing here. We’re seeing views that are frequently derived from and/or justified by information that’s largely false. How can there be a clear debate when people aren’t talking about what they really want, and maybe don’t even understand why they want what they want?

    So I’ll flip back to my original question from my comment in the previous post: Do you have any thoughts on how to encourage people to talk more clearly about what they really want instead of trying to tactically undermine the credibility of what other people want? How do we get a fair exchange of moral views that ensures a participant who mightn’t have things going their way cannot simply vandalise the forum with rubbish information to mislead others?

  • MikeM’s comments have reminded me of one particular proceeding that I personally saw on 1080 eyewitness. Someone posted a link to an article from the Australian Geographic which discussed the predatory behaviour of Australian possum species, which the poster found by stalking a pro-1080 Facebook group. The article mentioned common brushtail possums being a threat to a species of cockatoo.
    The members of eyewitness responded to the article in one of three ways; 1) ‘So, what? 1080 kills way more birds, anyway.’, 2) ‘Sounds like propaganda; what are the credentials of the author?’, or 3) Calling it ‘crap’, completely dismissing the article, and proceeding with maintaining the fallacious belief that possums don’t eat birds, unperturbed.

    -SG

  • Hey Jamie. What happened to the explanation I posted here in response to your question above? It was definitely posted, over three comments, but seems to have vanished.

  • Never mind. I’ve checked with the SciBlogs editorial team and it’s been undeleted, as has Simon Glass’s following comment that referenced it.