Perspectives on Endangered and Invasive Species

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Key Tree Cactus

At the Ecological Society of America Meeting, I spoke about our research on the Key Tree Cactus in a session about Climate Change and Plants.  As climate change is a rising concern, there were many studies underway to test experimentally the impact of elevated carbon dioxide on plant growth.  In contrast, our work on the Key Tree Cactus documented the decline of this species in the lower Florida Keys.  Increased soil salinity was associated with plants that have died and with populations that have had the greatest mortality suggesting that recent intense hurricane activity and sea level rise have impacted this species.  Thus, this population decline is a consequence of climate change via the indirect impacts of sea level rise. 

At the end of my session, a young Chinese woman approached me to discuss some of the challenges with rare plant conservation.  She was pretty perplexed about why I would care about this species.  She asked me what function the species had in the ecosystem and why effort should be made to prevent the species’ extinction rather than concentrate resources on more common commercially viable species.  She raised a concern that many have expressed and it is really an issue of values and philosophy.  I had to confess to her that I don't think about endangered plants in that way; I’m not concerned about what value they have to me personally other than how they contribute to the diverse and marvelous world in which we live.  I care about preserving them for the sake of biodiversity.  The work we are doing does have broader applications beyond the single species though.  As many species are at risk from sea level rise, what we learn from one species can be applied to others.  

Attending my session was former colleague Ann Frances.  She is doing fine.  She finished her doctorate & is now seeking employment in the Washington DC area. 

Another big topic at the meetings was invasive species.  Many talks related to understanding how invasive species are so successful and spread.  One of the concerns raised about moving any plant species to a new location is that we don’t know whether it will become invasive.  Some have raised this concern about relocations of rare species also.  Many of us working with rare species would love to see the day when the species even stays on even ground – holding its own or increasing in number rather than plummeting, so we have not worried about our species becoming invasive.  Because this concern has been raised, Dr. Hong Liu is looking into evidence of this occurrence.  Her work is ongoing. 

I’m heading to Australia on Monday and it will take two days.  Will be doing as much in chair T’ai Chi as possible!  

More later,