In the Sunday piece, freelance journalist Marina Bolotnikova blamed climate change for the forced migration of certain species, criticized measures taken by some governments to terminate those species, likened their treatment to the experiences of immigrants and suggested the term “invasive” wasn’t appropriate to describe the migrating groups.
“Ecologists expect climate change to create mass alterations in the habitats of these ‘range-shifting’ or ‘climate-tracking’ species, as they’re sometimes called, which will reshuffle ecosystems in ways that are hard to predict. The migrations are critical to species’ ability to survive hotter temperatures,” Bolotnikova wrote, citing instances of dark unicorn snails migrating from Mexico to California as an example.
Bolotnikova said that the scientific community largely viewed that sort of habitat shift as a “good thing,” but that governments and the general public were “less forgiving.”
“‘Invasive species’ is a concept so ingrained in American consciousness that it’s taken on a life of its own, coloring the way we judge the health of ecosystems and neatly dividing life on Earth into native and invasive,” she wrote.
“For decades, invasion has been a defining paradigm in environmental policy, determining what gets done with limited conservation budgets. Species deemed invasive have often been killed in gruesome ways,” she added. “Even though invasion biologists readily point out that many non-native species never become problematic, the invasion concept almost by definition makes scientists skeptical of species moving around.”
Bolotnikova claimed that a growing number of scientists and environmental philosophers were starting to question if a concept “defined by a species’ geographic origin” could actually capture the “ethical and ecological complexities of life on a rapidly changing planet.”
She argued that it was “crucial” to get right how to handle continued disruption of ecosystems in the 21st century, something she said would become more true as climate change and habitat loss accelerated. She then detailed arguments by some scientists that species referred to as “range-shifters” shouldn’t be referred to as “invasive,” but rather as “the refugees of climate change that need our assistance.”
“Climate change and the range shifts it’s causing are extraordinary circumstances. If a species flees a habitat that is burning or melting, is it ever fair to call it invasive?” Bolotnikova wrote. “Even outside of a climate context, this tension reflects a more fundamental problem within the invasive species paradigm. If the label is so stigmatizing that the only appropriate response feels like extermination, perhaps something else needs to take its place.”
She later referred to conservationist efforts in North Carolina to prevent coyotes from mating with endangered red wolves as bearing “uncomfortable parallels to Western preoccupations with racial purity.”
“That’s why some scientists look askance at the influence of invasion biology and argue that the field has a baked-in, nativist bias on documenting negative consequences of introduced species and preserving nature as it is,” she wrote.
“What’s more, the very notion of ‘invasion’ draws on a war metaphor, and media narratives about non-native species are remarkably similar to those describing enemy armies or immigrants,” Bolotnikova added before citing a news story that referred to armadillos “besieging” North Carolina as “pests” and “freakish.”
“[The story] also gawked at the animal’s ‘booming reproduction rate,’ an allegation that, not coincidentally, is leveled against human migrants,” she wrote.
The article drew an amused reaction, with some poking fun at the “woke” biology at display and disparaging Vox for criticizing a legitimately scientific phrase as not politically correct.