California is ablaze, again. So why is this part of the world so notorious for catching fire? (Image Credit: Daria Devyatkina, CC BY 2.0)
Co-authored by Kate Layton-Matthews
As part of a two-day gender equality workshop for the Department of Biology at NTNU, Kate Layton-Matthews and I had the chance to interview Professor Marlene Zuk. Marlene is a prominent evolutionary biologist and behavioral ecologist, and a well-known advocate of improved gender equality in academia.
Her emphasis on bringing about more fact-based discussions on gender and how to attract women to typically male-dominated professions is unfortunately still necessary. People are still maintaining the view that women are ‘naturally less inclined’ to what are considered as ‘masculine’ disciplines, but as Marlene explains, it is impossible to disentangle culture from genetics. Her work is fundamental in the face of such dangerous over-simplification, for instance in the light of the firing of a disgraced professor at Cern, the European nuclear research centre in Geneva, where a male professor commented that ‘Physics was built by men’, which was unsurprisingly met with immediate backlash. In the words of another gender equality-advocate and professor in Physics, Jessica Wade, we need to fight against the ‘toxic and incorrect messages’ that such people are propagating.
Species like koalas are cute and fluffy, and thus easy to provide funding for. But how do we save species that are more threatened and less charismatic? (Image Credit: Jesiane, Creative Commons CC0)
After my recent talk with Marlene Zuk (which we’ll be publishing later this week), I have been thinking more about the species we focus on in ecology and the species we neglect. Dr. Zuk is a specialist on insects, who has remarkably been able to sell the importance of topics as obscure as cricket sex and parasite wickedness to the public (as you can see in her brilliant TED Talk). However this is more the exception than the rule. In ecology, conservationists have traditionally focused on a select few animals. So why do we care about saving the pandas that do not want snuggles (or to get it on), and ignore the native worms that are being replaced by invasives? Can we change what the public cares about, and ask them to focus more on the role of a species in an ecologic system?
With the age of consumption well and truly upon us, we cover some of the more important things to consider when trying to eat sustainably (Image Credit: Love Food Hate Waste NZ, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Here at the Centre of Biodiversity Dynamics, we all pride ourselves in being a little more eco-conscious than most people (let’s not talk about the carbon footprint of our travels though). It is rare that we can make a meal together that involves meat since we are lousy with vegetarians. However, what we eat and how eco-friendly our diets actually are is a regular debate. This piece comes at the presupposition that the person reading this already has taken basic measures to be eco-friendly in their diet (i.e. not nomming on McDonalds’ reconstituted meat with a side helping of franken-fries). I am not going to talk about everything because there is frankly too much out there to discuss (and I’m not going to open a genetically modified can of worms).
Building on last week’s article on defining invasive and alien species as well as the work of Professor Mark Davis, I am going to do the unimaginable for an ecologist and argue that maybe alien species aren’t always a bad thing. I want to emphasize that maintaining biodiversity is essential, but maybe we should focus on the role of species in their environment rather than their place of origin.
In my previous posts on rewilding and wild boar, I talked about the effects of reintroducing species that were previously found in Norway. Now, I want to talk more about the large carnivores in Scandinavia which serve as protection against invasive species. This opinion piece is coming from an ecologist and a foreigner, so treat this like a Scandic breakfast buffet and take what you want.
Can you imagine a wild Scandinavia filled with untamed forests, wild boar, and large predators (and maybe a stray Viking)? This is the dream of some scientists advocating for the reintroduction of species once found in Europe that have either been hunted to extinction or driven out by intensive agriculture. The reintroduction of species, particularly animals dubbed “ecosystem engineers” such as beavers and large carnivores are of special interest due to the positive landscape-level effects of these species.
Why support bringing species back?
Reintroducing species, or rewilding, can have effects well beyond making hippies in Green Peace happy. The reintroduction of beavers in the UK, for example, has reduced flooding in Devon, and the reintroduction of wild boar in Sweden has led to an increase in plant species across habitat types where the wild pigs rooted. The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in my home country the good old US of A has led to the natural regulation of deer and elk populations, in turn leading to more diverse forests as grazing of seedlings decreased.
Why not reintroduce species?
Reintroducing species has understandably led to controversy. Sure, wolves are cool-until they eat your sheep. Since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in the 1990s, locals have protested citing safety concerns, the loss of livestock, and a decreasing population of elk for hunters. In Sweden, the boom in wild boar numbers has led to destruction of crops, and much outcry from farmers. Having protected species on land also makes it harder for companies to extract natural resources, both from a political and practical perspective (image a miner facing off with a bear).
The future of reintroducing species in Scandanavia
Species that are either being reintroduced in the UK and US or are under consideration are being hunted to extinction in Scandinavia. Norway, a country known for leading the change in environmental issues, is mired in debate over maintaining their current populations of large carnivores like wolves and wolverines. It seems unlikely that sheep farmers that have pushed for the cull of wolves to protect their flocks would support bringing in any more large animals that might pose a threat to their economic well being. If a species like wild boar are reintroduced to Norway like in Sweden and carnivore populations are kept low, hunting would be the main limitation to the population exploding to pig-pocalypse proportions.
Bringing back some of the species we have lost could bring back some biodiversity that we have lost. There will be short term costs, but the long term benefits of preserving biodiversity for future generations is immeasurable. However, I do think the Viking is best left extinct.
For more information on rewilding, we invite you to read the following works.
Feral by George Monbiot, The Return of Native Nordic Fauna project
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert