OOS 20-7 - Stewarding the planet’s plants: Human dimensions of the spread of plants in response to climate change

Wednesday, August 10, 2011: 10:10 AM
16B, Austin Convention Center
Brendon Larson, Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada

Plants are already moving in response to climate change, and this presentation is part of a session that seeks insights from invasion biology to better predict how and how fast they will move, reassemble and adapt. While the session largely frames these as biological questions, this paper instead approaches them from the perspective of human agency and preferences. That is, we can also ask how people will relate to, evaluate, and adapt to these species’ movements – and the answer to this question will in turn affect how the plants themselves move and adapt.


How people respond will depend in part on whether a species’ movement in response to climate change is intentional or not, and we can begin to predict people’s response here by considering existing and ongoing empirical social scientific studies, which I will briefly review, concerning their views of invasive species. We perhaps maintain greater control when we intentionally move species, such as with assisted colonization of an endangered species, but such movement will also require careful integration of ecological science into broader societal decision-making and choices about where and when to move species. Either way, though, these species’ movements will continue to subvert established distinctions between nature and culture and will necessitate a dramatic shift in how we think about conservation and the place and role of humans in natural systems. As a specific example, how will we encourage society’s earth stewardship when the accelerating flux of species is concomitantly eroding the relatively stable “sense of place” on which environmental ethics has traditionally depended. Ecologists will need to contribute to initiatives to help people understand that the resilience of earth’s “life support systems” to this flux does not mean that they are infinitely malleable, and that important thresholds can be crossed.

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