Black List

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Invasive Species Specialist Group maintains a searchable database of species – commonly called the Black List – that are considered invasive and destructive in a given region or country. As of 2018, the database listed 131 such species in Switzerland alone. While there is no doubt that some species, upon arriving in regions new to them, wreak havoc on native species and local habitats, not all species are harmful and therefore the issue is one that demands delicacy. Some scientists have argued that the fear of invasive species itself stems more from generalized xenophobia than objective consideration of specific species’ cases. Mark Davis and eighteen other ecologists argued this in a controversial essay published in 2011 in the journal Nature: “Nativeness is not a sign of evolutionary fitness or of a species having positive effects,” they wrote. “Classifying biota according to their adherence to cultural standards of belonging, citizenship, fair play, and morality does not advance our understanding of ecology. … Nearly two centuries on from the introduction of the concept of nativeness, it is time for conservationists to focus much more on the functions of species, and much less on where they originated.” (Davis et al. 2011: 153-154) Blackburn et al. (2014) have proposed a system for classifying “non-native” species according to their negative, neutral, or positive environmental impacts. The IUCN, for its part, also maintains a “grey list” of non-native species that are potentially but not definitely harmful. Arguably as important as a nuanced classification of non-native species is a reconsideration of the militaristic language used when talking about them. The term “invasion” itself was first used in reference to non-native species in Charles Elton’s The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants, published in 1958. Today, “red alerts” are sounded by municipalities upon the appearance of non-native species, against which “strategies” of “eradication” must be “tactically” undertaken. Sometimes the vocabulary even borrows overtly racist terms when talking about the appearance of new species, as was the case in a Toulouse newspaper’s 2018 description of the Asian wasp as a “yellow peril.” Such metaphors could reasonably be assumed to contribute to a general misunderstanding of non-native species in general, in addition to adding to an overall cultural fear of the Other and encouraging a framework of militaristic thought. “While these metaphors may effectively motivate conservation action in the short term, they could be ineffective in the long term,” argues Larson (2005). “Alternatives to militarism,” he continues, “will better promote realistic management and conservation goals in a multicultural context.” (KS)

See also: Red List

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