OOS 38-1 - The historical landscape of invasion ecology

Thursday, August 11, 2011: 8:00 AM
15, Austin Convention Center
Mark A. Davis, Biology, Macalester College, St. Paul, MN

The origin of the modern field of invasion biology can probably be traced to the early 1980s.  In 1980 a meeting of the Third International Conference on Mediterranean Ecosystems was held in Stellenbosch, South Africa and invasive species emerged as a central topic of concern.  Discussions at that meeting quickly led to several international invasion initiatives.  At the same time, several prominent scientists published books or chapters focusing on invasive species.  The field progressed at a modest but steady pace during the 1980s, until it exploded in the 1990s, in terms of number of participants and number of publications.  During the 1990s, countless theories were proposed to explain the dynamics and patterns of invasions that were being observed.  This focus helped the field to define an identity for itself, but probably because of this intense self-focus, the field became somewhat dissociated from the rest of ecology for a period of time.  In the 2000s, the field occasionally came under criticism, some of it from outside the field, e.g., by philosophers and sociologists, and some from within the field.  Many of these criticisms focused on language used in the discipline and concerns that statements and claims of harm were often exaggerated beyond good scientific evidence. 


In 2011, the field is still led by many of those who helped found the field in the early 1980s.  This continuity can have benefits and drawbacks.  If the same individuals lead a field for a long period of time, there is always a risk that the field can become narrow and prescriptive and begin to operate in a top-down fashion.  The field will clearly benefit from more activity and leadership from younger scientists, who will likely bring with them fresh ideas and perspectives.  Looking ahead, the boundaries of a distinct field of invasion biology are becoming more diffuse.  Biological invasions are part of a highly integrated and rapidly changing world.  It may be time for the field to begin to let its individual identify subside.  Species all over the world will continue to be on the move and many will need to be studied and managed due to the harm they produce.  But, it may make more sense for this phenomenon to be studied as part of an integrated study of global change and novel ecosystems rather than specifically as invasion biology.

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