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The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature's Salvation

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Named one of the best books of 2015 by The Economist

A provocative exploration of the “new ecology” and why most of what we think we know about alien species is wrong
For a long time, veteran environmental journalist Fred Pearce thought in stark terms about invasive they were the evil interlopers spoiling pristine “natural” ecosystems. Most conservationists and environmentalists share this view. But what if the traditional view of ecology is wrong—what if true environmentalists should be applauding the invaders?

In The New Wild , Pearce goes on a journey across six continents to rediscover what conservation in the twenty-first century should be about. Pearce explores ecosystems from remote Pacific islands to the United Kingdom, from San Francisco Bay to the Great Lakes, as he digs into questionable estimates of the cost of invader species and reveals the outdated intellectual sources of our ideas about the balance of nature. Pearce acknowledges that there are horror stories about alien species disrupting ecosystems, but most of the time, the tens of thousands of introduced species usually swiftly die out or settle down and become model eco-citizens. The case for keeping out alien species, he finds, looks increasingly flawed.

As Pearce argues, mainstream environmentalists are right that we need a rewilding of the earth, but they are wrong if they imagine that we can achieve that by reengineering ecosystems. Humans have changed the planet too much, and nature never goes backward. But a growing group of scientists is taking a fresh look at how species interact in the wild. According to these new ecologists, we should applaud the dynamism of alien species and the novel ecosystems they create.

In an era of climate change and widespread ecological damage, it is absolutely crucial that we find ways to help nature regenerate. Embracing the new ecology, Pearce shows us, is our best chance. To be an environmentalist in the twenty-first century means celebrating nature’s wildness and capacity for change.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published April 2, 2015

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About the author

Fred Pearce

48 books76 followers
Fred Pearce is an English author and journalist based in London. He has been described as one of Britain's finest science writers and has reported on environment, popular science and development issues from 64 countries over the past 20 years. He specialises in global environmental issues, including water and climate change, and frequently takes heretic and counter-intuitive views - "a sceptic in the best sense", he says.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 99 reviews
Profile Image for Ryan.
Author 1 book36 followers
July 3, 2015
It is always interesting to read what Fred Pearce has to say, and I have great respect for his many years of investigative reporting on environmental and nature issues. He writes lucidly and the variety of locations from which he reports adds tremendously to the interest of his accounts.

Having already read two of his previous books, I noticed he tries to be deliberately controversial and contrarian in his views on these topics. Whether it is merely an attempt to generate more interest for his publishers and audience, or if he truly believes in the conclusions he writes about I do not know. This book is ostensibly about invasive species, a subject that evokes strong feelings in many. Pearce argues that labeling species as such is entirely arbitrary and artificial since it all depends on the time frame in which one is referencing. Go back far enough and every organism has to come from somewhere else, so arguably every species 'invaded' its current home. This much I agree with. But he goes further to opine that given this, we should therefore embrace ecological change, since nature is never static, habitats and their creatures are always evolving. We should not be too bothered by 'novel' ecosystems created out of brownfield sites where hybrid and alien species thrive. In any case there is nothing humans can do to stop this change as nature does not go back to previous states.

Yes, it is true that humans have altered the landscape on a massive scale for thousands of years, even in such seemingly wild places like the Amazon and the African savanna. However the book totally misses the point at looking at the RATE of change we are imposing on the natural world. It is this that makes the whole argument for letting go of traditional attempts at preserving nature fall flat. "The New Wild" is the author's version of that other controversial book "Rambunctious Garden" by Emma Marris, in that it also envisions and supports a new state of nature marked by human interference and the giving up of preserving 'pristine' nature because it was hardly pristine to begin with. For this conclusion and its anti-conservation (in the traditional sense) message it does not warrant a high rating from me.

One simply cannot deny that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction because of the rapid rate of species extinction, up to 1000 times the background rate, due to our activities in the Anthropocene. How can one argue that this does not matter since change is the constant? Of course it does because we are the agents of change at a pace that is out of proportion to the change that the environment is used to. There is no time for nature to adapt to the destruction, we are for all intents and purposes akin to the meteorite that struck out the dinosaurs. Sure nature will EVENTUALLY come back, but in what time frame? What about the species lost FOREVER? The danger in Pearce's and Marris' writing is that it is okay to let go, and let our destructive habits continue unabated, let nature 'take its course' so to speak. Yes we are part of nature anyway so is it therefore natural to let humans wipe out other living beings on this planet?

It is well and good that forests are regenerating on abandoned farms as urbanization takes hold. Good that animals are once more returning to suburban landscapes in Europe and North America. What the author does not mention is the continued habitat destruction that has been exported by the developed countries of the west to the global South in places like China, India and Indonesia, where the opposite is occurring much like the massive die offs that took place in America and Europe during their industrialization. Nature simply cannot withstand the scale and pace of industrial development. It is merely wishful thinking and misplaced optimism that unbridled development is all right since nature can recover as is now happening in some places of the global North. We will all live in a biologically impoverished world as nature gets wiped out, notwithstanding the handful of hardy species that can live with us.

Pearce's book is still worth reading for educating readers about common misconceptions of nature being untouched, virgin and pristine, and how no species can be seen as absolutely native and more recent arrivals as dangerous and undesired. But this does not imply that we should not care about the rapid change we are imposing right now on the natural world and that anything goes since nature has always been resilient and will bounce back somehow. I hope readers do not get misled into this dangerous way of thinking.
Profile Image for Brian Clegg.
Author 202 books2,565 followers
June 19, 2015
If you are interested in the environment, a new book by Fred Pearce is always a red letter day, and never more so than with his new title on the bizarre portrayal of invasive species and how we need a very different picture of the 'balance of nature' and the environment.

I was a little worried when I first saw the book as it seemed to be treading very similar ground to Ken Thomson's Where Do Camels Belong? and there was certainly an overlap, as both cover the way that 'alien' species that come into a country from elsewhere are treated hysterically by some conservationists and ecologists, with very little scientific backing for their arguments. But Camels concentrates primarily on the species themselves, how transfers from place to place are perfectly normal, and just how difficult it is to define what is a native or an alien species, while The New Wild is more about the politics and big picture aspects.

You know this is going to be special when Pearce opens with the fascinating story of Ascension Island's Green Mountain, which provides a powerful illustration of the odd nature of purist, anti-immigration ecological thinking. This volcanic structure was pretty much devoid of life when Darwin saw it in the 1830s, but now it is a thriving ecostructure, with a host of non-native plants, that provides an environment that has also enabled native plants and wildlife to flourish, thanks to the 'artificial' invaders. Some ecologists think it is an abomination - and yet it supports diverse wildlife, is deeply biodiverse and provides a far richer environment than the previous wasteland.

As Pearce reveals, though some ecologists are coming around to the new way of thinking, plenty of large bodies including governments, the UN and the WWF have a peculiar idea that any particular environment has a unique and singular 'balance of nature' and allowing invaders in ruins this, resulting in devastation and destruction. Yet as the book reveals time and time again, in the vast majority of cases nature is far more robust than this suggests, and not only welcomes invaders but becomes a more diverse ecological environment as a result. There seems to be an old school of environmentalism, driven by evangelical fervour rather than science, that wants everything to return to an Eden-like original perfection that is imaginary, impossible to achieve and ludicrous as a goal.

As the book unfolds, Pearce demonstrates many times the use of bad science. There's cherry picking of data - only selecting examples where a particular 'alien' species has caused damage and never looking at the far more frequent situations where they provide benefits. There's more cherry picking when, for instance, the damage cats do to birds is costed, but there is no mention of the benefit from them catching mice. What's more, the costing doesn't make much sense. Each bird kill in the US is costed at $30, but as Pearce points out, how does a cat killing a bird have this impact on the US economy? There's poor sourcing of data - scary numbers for costs and damages that when Pearce traces them back to the source were guesses, off the cuff remarks or numbers that bear no resemblance to reality. And there's even cheating. For instance, rats are one of the few invasive species it's hard to say anything good about, so they rightly have an environmental cost. But when they are said to produce a cost of $25 billion in India alone, it isn't pointed out that the main culprit is the native black rat, not an invader at all.

In the end, Pearce points out the apparently obvious that there is no such thing as a perfect 'balance of nature' in a particular habitat. Things have always changed and always will. Apart from anything else, there is hardly any habitat in the world that hasn't already been significantly modified by humans - including both the Amazon rain forest and apparently pristine African animal reserves - both vastly different from the way they were a few hundred years ago. The hysteria about keeping invasive species out and protecting an imaginary perfect past is totally ridiculous.

If I have one criticism of the book, there are quite long sections where Pearce just throws one example after another at us. I felt a slight urge to say 'Okay, we've got the point, move on.' But I presume the author wanted to underline how prevalent (and silly) this 'preserve in aspic' approach is. I also think he could have made a little more of the difficulty of establishing what is a native species. Pearce goes along with the conventional conservationist view that the rabbit is an alien to the UK, because it was introduced from Spain about 1,000 years ago. But he misses the point Thompson makes that it was only non-native because it was wiped out by earlier climate change. It was just a re-introduction, not an invasion by an alien. Oh and a very small whinge - the hardback has a transparent plastic cover that is very pretty, but made it slightly unpleasant to hold.

Overall an excellent book that every government minister, civil servant and NGO person involved in the control of invasive species (we spend many millions on this!) should be forced to study, and then to seriously re-evaluate their policies. And the rest of us should read it too. Fascinating.
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,627 reviews326 followers
November 25, 2018
This one started slow, but the pace picked up as Pearce got into less-familiar (to me) material. He makes good points, but there's a lot of repetition and, well, journalistic stuff. Over-egging the custard. “Sexing it up.” Here's the book I recommend instead of Pearce's, by a working biologist: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Pearce’s cheerleading for the “other side” is a little hard to judge. Way outside my area of expertise, but it rings true. Mostly. Provocative ideas, for sure. The real eye-opener for me was the natural recovery of Puerto Rico’s vanished forests, in abandoned sugar-cane plantations (Chap. 10). It was fast, and involved *lots* of exotic plants, notably African tulip trees, with other forestry and garden escapees. The enviros don’t quite know what to make of it. Plenty of precedents, of course, including abandoned New England farms. Nature is a lot less fragile than the fund-raising brochures woud have you think. But it’s…. Messy. Weedy. Not *Pristine.*

So I recommend the book, despite not much liking the author’s writing style. 4 stars for content, 2 for the writing.

Here’s an interesting rebuttal, by an Environmental Science professor:
Profile Image for Richard.
Author 1 book39 followers
May 5, 2022
“Alien” species are plants, animals (and others, including pathogens) invading an environment and either settling in among the natives fairly peacefully, or (much more rarely) running riot. It’s an entirely natural process, which would be happening routinely even if there were no humans on the planet—it’s just part of the way the natural world, and its evolution through time, happens. Since humans have been around though, transporting plants and animals by both accident and design, it’s become far more commonplace until today “…we live in a new geological era in which nothing is undisturbed and most ecosystems are a hotch-potch of native and alien species…”
    The received wisdom (among conservationists at least) is essentially “natives good, aliens bad”; that invasive species should be rooted out again and this alien tide held back at all costs. But there’s also a newer, very different, view and long-time environmental-science journalist Fred Pearce is among those now championing it. In The New Wild he first gives us examples of invasions, from Ascension and the Hawaiian islands to Australia, San Francisco Bay, the Black Sea…all over the globe in fact: the water hyacinth, jellyfish, rabbits, algae, zebra mussels and Japanese knotweed are among the more familiar perceived offenders. Then there’s a section describing the (well-meaning) efforts of conservationists to perform what he calls “ecological cleansing”, the eradication of foreign species, and the various reasons these efforts are rarely successful. In the final part he outlines the newer attitude, what he calls “the new wild”.
    A couple of examples give a taste of the sort of thing Pearce is talking about. The Black Sea was already a highly toxic and sewage-choked sump, ripe for invasion by any species (in this case a kind of jellyfish) which could stand to live in it. The invaders, in other words, are often opportunists rather than destroyers, able to thrive in an environment made suitable for them by us humans. They also commonly act as scapegoats: rabbits are blamed for the damage to Australia’s outback actually wreaked by the millions of sheep introduced there by the farmers doing the blaming.
    Pearce’s claim overall is that, seen in proper perspective, there’s really no such thing as either a “native” or “alien” species and the whole idea of there being a “balance of nature”, too, is a myth; all ecosystems are in constant flux; change is, and has always been, the norm. All this, he says, has more to do with human psychology than real ecology: it may be a very human (and understandable) emotion to want to stop the clock and preserve everything the way it is right now, but a human emotion is all it is.
    The book is packed with both ecological and historical facts (and Pearce drops in one or two along the way which some readers might find shocking: the stuff about the “pristine” and iconic tropical rainforests of Amazonia, Congo and even Borneo having been extensively farmed not so long ago for instance!) On the one hand, it’s worth keeping in mind that he is giving us only one side of an argument here. But on the other, whether I agree with him overall or not, this certainly did make me go back to the basics and think it all through afresh—very interesting read.
Profile Image for Sarah Clement.
Author 1 book100 followers
September 12, 2016
This is one of those books that challenges you to think differently about received wisdom, and it does it in a really beautiful, well-argued way. So although I don't necessarily agree with everything that Pearce says in this book, I am giving it 5 stars because I enjoyed every page of it, and I agreed with quite a lot.

This book is a bit like Where Do Camels Belong? if you have read that, but I actually prefer this book. This is in part because Pearce is a journalist (whereas Thompson is an ecologist), so I think his narrative is stronger and more compelling, even if it does mean that he is not nearly as measured (or always as nuanced and accurate) as Thompson. Both authors challenge the view that non-native species are inherently bad or causing catastrophic damage to ecosystems. Pearce really emphasises that a lot of the impacts caused by invasive species are felt so strongly because we altered the ecosystems so much in the first place, leaving them vulnerable. This is a point Thompson made subtly in his book, but I think it's an important one to underscore and reiterate, as Pearce has done in The New Wilde. Pearce also discusses how introduction of invasives can actually help restablish functionality, paving the way for the re-establishment of natives. And even if all the natives don’t come back, he challenges the idea that these ‘degraded’ ecosystems are worthless, as they are so often treated (in both law and in practice). This book challenges invasive species research, with a range of criticisms that may or may not be familiar to you, e.g. ecologist favour and almost mythologise nativeness, even when a non-native species performs a similar role in an ecosystem; we tend to only research the most invasive non-native species, creating a skewed picture of the impacts; the response to some invasions is overstated, impulsive, and too hyperbolic, etc. He also challenges fundamental ideas of nativeness, wilderness, and the dynamics of ecosystem change, challenging both popularly held myths and closely held tenants within the environmental field. Again, one must remember that Pearce is a journalist and at times is prone to simplifying or overstating the science, but I think he provides a really strong intellectual challenge to a lot of the cherished ideas in ecology that are embedded in our policies and conservation programmes. He certainly does a brilliant job articulating the inconsistencies and logical fallacies that pervade ecological thought, and I think that is, in part, because he's a journalist with a strong interest and knowledge of ecology and not an ecologist who also writes. Sometimes it takes an outsider with insider knowledge to see things as they are.

Ultimately, this is a book about novel ecosystems, the management and restoration of which is a contentious topic among ecologists, raising questions about whether or not we are "giving up" if we "give in" to novel ecosystems. But no matter your view on that, Pearce points out that they are already here, and I think he makes a compelling case for why we should learn to embrace the new wild. He has that pragmatism so typical of English writers, where you can tell that he is clearly a passionate nature lover but also at once fully aware of what it means to accept that we aren't going back to some magical bygone era. Instead, he forms his book around illustrating how we can make the best of it, and how things aren't always as bad as they seem.

I think this book will cover many ideas that will be new to most readers. However, if you've been reading around this topic for a long time, the fundamental ideas underpinning this book will not be particularly mind-blowing or new, but it is still contrary to the dominant narratives in invasion ecology, restoration ecology, and the broader environmental movement. What I liked best about this book is that it made me check my own biases, and also reassess where my values meet up with the science. In this way, of course, it isn't necessary that I always agree with Pearce in terms of "where to from here?" but I strongly agree with him that this is the new wild, and that what we should do with it should have less to do with a species' origins than its function in an ecosystem.
Profile Image for Michael.
218 reviews44 followers
August 2, 2015
There are two sets of people who love the Earth in all of its diversity and grandeur. The first set includes those who would keep it as it is and exclude the novel ecosystems established through the immigration of alien species. The second includes those who acknowledge that life is a process, ever changing, and acknowledge that it is through change that evolution happens. The two sets of people are at war with each other, and the environment suffers as a result of the disagreement. Invasion biologists champion the plants and animals that are native to a particular region and advocate the exclusion or extirpation of non-native species. The inclusionists understand that we are all immigrants. Native Americans came to North America between 30,000 and 16,000 years ago. Between 85,000 and 11,000 years ago, continental ice sheets covered much of North America, with the glacial maximum occurring between 26,000 and 21,000 years ago during the Late Wisconsin glaciation. There were no plants or animals under the ice. Nativism champions the view that there are native ecosystems that have co-evolved to produce the optimal association of plants and animals for a particular region. This is the view of the invasion biologists who see every alien immigrant as a threat to the ideal native ecology. Inclusionists ask what is the point at which an immigrant becomes a naturalized native. Darwin did not acknowledge the existence of native ecosystems that represent the culmination of evolutionary progress. For him, the evolutionary process, driven by survival of the fittest, was eternal change. There is no pristine steady-state ecology, no Garden of Eden to which we can return. There is only change, relentless to species that cannot adapt, and welcoming to those that can. The author asks, "Should we not welcome immigrants, since we were once in their position, strangers in a strange land?" Native plants and animals do not represent the optimal inhabitants of a particular region. They are rather "good enough" to survive -- until something better adapted comes along. The author argues that ecosystems are in perpetual flux with new arrivals variously coexisting with and supplanting native species. There is nothing wrong with this. We enjoy the blooms of chicory and Queen Anne's lace without thinking that they are alien invasive species. We enjoy the ecological services of the European honey bee without reflecting that the Native Americans called them "white men's flies." The author argues in favor of acceptance of alien immigrants and acknowledgement of their places in the natural order and opposes the xenophobic and sclerotic tendencies of the invasion biologists. He does not say that we cannot choose our landscapes, but he makes it clear that in doing so we are accommodating human desires rather than natural laws. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Amy.
652 reviews11 followers
November 4, 2015
5 stars - not because I wholly agree with Mr. Pearce, but because I think this is a discussion that environmental professionals need to be having. As a 15+ year environmental professional, Ive been party to plenty of "invasives bad!/natives good! - but what do we classify as native?" type discussions. Ive seen species go from hero to goat during my career....

Im not entirely convinced that Invasives will be the "salvation" of nature, but I do firmly believe that there is no static state for ecosystems, and to declare a species detrimental because its new may be too harsh (interesting socio-political take in the book on this)... I wish he had done a few more "case-studies/examples" of species that create dense monocultures excluding other species - the majority of his examples seemed to be co-existing invaders.

Recommended for environmental professionals,or just anyone with an "eco" tilt to their interests.
Profile Image for Mitchell Friedman.
4,567 reviews170 followers
July 31, 2017
Huh. Well that was a head-scratcher but in a good way. If none of the land we think of as wild was actually wild, if all of it had been modified by human action, than what are we restoring? And if we are trying to maximize diversity, then shouldn't we allow invasives as long as they are not actually causing direct harm (like to bridges and dams and power stations and other human things) and not causing other species to actually become threatened? This was basically the idea behind this book. I'd love to see a follow-up that did a chapter by chapter on specific species - say English Ivy and Himalayan Blackberry and Scotch Broom. It also brings into question such sites and lists like https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/ar.... As a veteran of quite a few Ivy Pulls, I think the question of whether there is a place for some of these bad guys is an interesting one.
Profile Image for Kim Stallwood.
Author 7 books34 followers
July 18, 2017
The New Wild by Fred Pearce is a must-read book that challenges our thinking about nature and how to view the environment and the plants and animals who we share the Earth with.

Begin at the end with the author’s close for the last chapter:

“Nature never goes back; it always moves on. Alien species, the vagabonds, are the pioneers and colonists in this constant renewal. Their invasions will not always be convenient for us, but nature will re-wild in its own way. That is the new wild.” (p. 193)

Back to the front. The first of the three sections (“Alien Empires”) is a well-researched and engagingly written “look at the reality behind some of the inventions by alien species that have made headlines.” (p. xv) For example, 24 European rabbits were brought to Australia in 1859 by an English settler named Thomas Austin. They bred. Austin invited people to shoot them. Rabbits escaped. And now there are millions of them. To stop them, the government introduced the disease myxomatosis which killed off “all but a few thousand.” But, as Pearce notes, “The survivors, however, have become the basis for a population revival.”

As I read my way through this section, I could not help but think of it as a litany of human decision making gone wrong. This lead to that. Which means something had to be done. And, then, there are the consequences, which have to be dealt with. It made me want to scream: “Stop!” Just leave nature alone.”

Of course, this is impossible for us to do. We can not help ourselves. And to make sense of it all, we have to break things down into smaller pieces because it is too much effort, and the cost is too great, to take the holistic worldview and start from there.

So, a myriad of small-thinking decisions are made with the inevitable consequences, thereby bringing us to the second part (“Myths and Demons”). “The results are often comical,” Pearce notes as he examines “misplaced notions about how aliens affect the real world and how we do conservation.” (p. xv). Here, as in the books about cats I have also been reading recently, islands and the struggle between “native” and “non-native” species becomes the platform through which the world is put to right. Except that life is not that simple. What happens in the Galapagos can not be projected out to the North American continent.

The third section (“The New Wild”) “reboots our ideas about nature.” “Most of the world,” Pearce writes, “is now composed of novel mixtures of native and alien species, happily getting along together, enriching our lives, maintaining ecosystems, and recharging nature’s batteries.” (p. xv)

Pearce is an accomplished writer who marshals much information that is presented clearly except for a few times when I felt the weight of the evidence becoming too much. But this is more than made up for by his pithy remarks and wry observations.

As an animal rights advocate, I am currently working in the area of outdoor living domestic cats. They are, according to some, responsible for mental disease in people, extinction of birds, environmental pollution, and often sentenced to death as a non-native invasive species. But from reading The New Wild, my understanding of the arbitrary and caprciousness of labelling life as “native” and “invasive” is deeply problematic. For starters, it stems from the prejudicial thinking of some life forms as the “other.” Now that we live in the age of the anthropocene, and climate change and mass extinction are facts of life, we need to understand nature as a dynamic, ever-changing force. It is not a romantic, pristine past that with some jiggery pokery we can recreate like a Disney theme park.

We are all made up from things that were, at some point, native and non-native.
Profile Image for Jeff Brown.
26 reviews3 followers
June 10, 2015
The author’s premise is that invasive species are not the scourge they are made out to be, and are really a result of ecosystems weakened by reckless human behavior. A compelling argument is made, and even on a philosophical level it makes sense. Focusing on symptoms and ignoring causes is a common human failure. Think about it - with something like kudzu, what is a more likely explanation that is has overrun many areas in the US:

-It is some superweed that has defied all Darwinian constraints and is more powerful than anything around it and will wipe out everything in its path.


-Humans cut down the forest and replaced them with farms, and most of the animals died. Then then knocked down the farms to build factories and railroads on top of them, and the soil was poisoned. They then demolished the factories and build housing developments on top of them and the only plant was grass. After people systematically destroyed the ecosystem several times, there was nothing left to complete with the kudzu (this was not specifically in the book, but I think fits the spirit of the argument).

The author also made the point that ecosystems are dynamic, and species are coming and going all of the time. I currently live in the northeast US, where more or less everything is younger than 10,000 years old (since 10,000 ago this area had a mile of ice on top of it). Another recent book I read, “The Monkey’s Voyage” points out that even before humans were significantly affecting their surroundings, species often spread across oceans by themselves. It is a perfectly natural part of evolution that we may have accelerated a bit, but is nothing new. And much of what we consider a balanced ecosystem did not co-evolve, but is in fact a result of many mini-invasions over time.

I liked this book because the author is not afraid to make a case about something that may not be popular with many environmentalists. To me this is something that is sorely needed. Environmentalism has gotten to a place where it is almost like child safety: if you question erring towards caution - even if the facts are on your side - you are treated as a pariah. But to me it is too important to get wrong - often the truth is counterintuitive, and dogma never fixed anything, so we need to listen to any reasoned view and use hard data (not rhetoric that fits our preconceptions) to decide what is right. And for that, this book gave an excellent “counterpoint” to consider when thinking about invasive species.
Profile Image for David T..
57 reviews3 followers
January 18, 2023
Not everything written about a scientific topic is in fact scientific. The author’s qualifications are as an environmental journalist. In the introduction, he discusses how his views are often met with backlash from ecologists. He states, “true environmentalists should be applauding the invaders.” Why does he think his qualifications are greater than a large community of specialists? Why does he feel he gets to define who is a true environmentalist? A professor in my undergrad was fond of saying, “everyone has an opinion about conservation biology, but few people have knowledge in conservation biology.”

More specific thoughts below:

I read this book as part of my 2023 reading challenge in fulfillment of a “nonfiction book supporting a stance that you know/suspect conflicts with what you currently believe.” Now that I have finished, I need to read a Douglas Tallamy book to help me recover.
Profile Image for Gerald Kinro.
Author 2 books4 followers
July 5, 2017
I enjoyed the read but cannot say I agree with many of what Fred Pearce suggests. I live in the alien species capital of the world. In my career with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, I have seen both sides--the destruction caused by aliens and benefits they bring. For one, terrestrial native Hawaiian plants and animals are not suited for food. The former provide very little calories and protein. Aside from birds, arthropods and a single mammal (the Hawaiian hoary bat) there are no land-based animals. The first colonizers brought their food plants. On the other hand, I have seen invasives threaten Hawaiian agriculture and the ecosystem. Many aliens that dominate the wilds do not adequate hold soil, causing mass erosion. Others, the thirsty ones, threaten the ground water supply. During my career, I had colleagues who traveled the world looking for biological control agents to be used to protect wanted species against pests. At the same time, I had colleagues who worked at out points of entry to keep invasives from entering the state.

Complex? Yes. Some say that aliens are the sad reality, that we no longer have a "native" environment with aliens better-suited to compete in our ecosystem. What I can say is that there is no single answer, for nature has too many variables.

The book moves along fast. The carefully selects cases that support his thesis. Still I enjoy the subject matter.
Profile Image for Brian Griffith.
Author 6 books223 followers
August 27, 2020
Are environmentalists commonly prejudiced? Do they practice environmental cleansing for the sake of environmental purity? Pearce gives a critical look at our latest wave of wars on plants and animals -- the supposedly ecological battles to eliminate foreign species, protect native life forms from competition, and perhaps restore pieces of the landscape to how they were at some point in the distant past. For Pearce, all of this bears a disturbing resemblance to our efforts at ethnic cleansing or our traditionalist movements for restoring human cultures to how they were generations ago. He makes a rational, well researched case for going with the flow and letting the most successful creatures succeed, rather than fighting an uphill battle to keep life from changing.
647 reviews13 followers
May 8, 2019
In 1836, Darwin visited Ascension Island and found it to be hideously naked. Since then plants and animals have been brought to the island from around the world, creating a truly unique ecosystem where 90 percent of the species are imports. In spite of it being quite functional, the interactions between the native and introduced species have not been studied. Ecologist Daniel Janzen coined the term "ecological fitting" where an ecosystem develops from the various species that move into it, rather than through mutual evolution. In some cases, imports create environments that allow native species to prosper, an example being some of the native mosses on Ascension.

As humans have travelled around the globe, they have intentionally taken plants and animals as either food sources or to liven up locations that were considered less attractive - such as New Zealand which was felt to be destitute of animals. So great has been the flow of species that most people think of many introduced species as local. "... hard distinctions of what belongs where have become meaningless." Introduction of pests has caused such devastations as the fungus (Phytophtora) infection of the Irish potato crop and the aphid (Phylloxera) infection of the French vineyards, both species having originated in North America. Water hyacinth from the Amazon has spread around the world - while it has been a menace in Lake Victoria, heavy rains in 1998 resulted in a significant decline showing the root problem to be pollution.

The author looks at literally hundreds of examples of invasions. It is clear that the number of invasive species is far greater than most realize. The proportion of of these that cause problems is quite low. People are generally unaware of the foreign origin of many of the species in their area. In many cases plants especially have become such an established component of the ecosystem that they have been given common names suggesting they are natives.

South Africa has deployed 25,000 people each year to destroy 68 species of invading tree in an attempt to increase water availability. While a great employment program, the land area covered by alien species actually increased slightly between 1996 and 2008. The author examines a number of efforts to cleanse areas of invaders, many of which produce significant collateral losses. The destruction of rats is generally done with poisons that often kill any bird feeding on the dead animals. In some cases, native animals adapt to invaders and their removal then results in the loss of the native, as in San Francisco Bay were the California Clapper Rail adapted to a hydrid of the invader cordgrass the removal of which caused the rail population to crash.

The author describes the development of the field of "invasion biology", noting that biologists have shown bias in their work. They start with the assumption that alien species are bad. Their work is usually on the most sensational of the invaders, and do not look at beneficial impacts. The author tracks down the basis for such numbers as invasive species causing 40 percent of extinctions - while often quoted their roots are often dubious. Estimates of the cost of invasive species are also poorly founded. A newer generation of ecologists such as Mark Davis have observed that invasion results in greater diversity. For example, in New Zealand invaders have increased the number of plant species from 2000 to 4000, but with the loss of some native species. (While this may be true in a given area, the author fails to point out that the diversity of the earth does decrease due to local species loss).

Archaeologists are now finding evidence of cultures with large populations having existed in the rain forests of the world. These people were "proto-farmers" who made use of large areas of the forests to grow food, often making "dark earths" with organic waste and plant material. Specialty plants were planted, as in the example of the Brosimum alicastrum used by the Mayans to produce the Maya Nut, the food value of which has only recently been re-discovered. The extent of these plantings indicates that many of the rain forests are not so pristine as expected. The author tells of the introduction of rinderpest in 1887 which destroyed the cattle-based cultures of Africa including the Masai. The massive kill-off of cattle and wild cloven-hoofed animals devastated the human population, but also allowed the tsetse fly population to explode. While today Africa has many parks, they are should not be thought as pristine landscape.

Many ecologists think of untouched ecosystems as reaching a climax, rather static state where the various inhabitants have co-evolved to form a balanced system. Newer thinking is proposing that ecosystems are the result of chance and should be thought of as dynamic and open. American ecologist Daniel Janzen says we should not treat co-evolution as the default explanation for the relationship between species. The Amazon has 11 thousand tree species - do they all have specific niches or do they just compete for resources? When the island of Surtsey formed species soon colonized it, but surprisingly many were not from nearby Iceland but from as far away as Europe. Events as flood and fire clear ecosystems; renewal is a process where species move in and establish relationships.

When land that has been used for logging or farming goes unused, novel ecosystems are established. Often alien species are best at growing on the cleared land, but native species often return and co-exist with the newcomers. The percentage loss of native species is often small. In the Seychelles much of the land had been used for spice plantations, but the rise of tourism lead to their abandonment. When the forests grew back, more than 90 percent of the island's native species were still around.

Ecologist Chris Thomas was a co-author of an 2004 IPCC report that warned that millions of species would be lost to global warming. Since then, he has changed his thinking, believing now that change results in an acceleration of evolution. He has proposed Britain as a sanctuary for species at risk elsewhere as it really has very little undisturbed land.

The author looks at a variety of habitat restoration and re-wilding projects. In general, they can only succeed through intensive maintenance and so are more like a zoo or a garden than a natural ecosystem.

The New Wild is about recognizing novel ecosystems and thinking less about keeping things the way they are. Christoph Kueffer says novel ecosystems "represent the wildlands of the future, the self-organized response of nature to anthropogenic impacts."

Profile Image for Juliet Wilson.
Author 15 books42 followers
January 15, 2019
Subtitled Why Invasive Species will be Nature's Salvation this provocative book is sure to enrage some conservationists and cuase consternation among many organisations working in ecological restoration. It is however well worth reading even if you violently disagree with what Pearce says.

The main argument of the book is that we should stop worrying about invasive non native species and welcome them with open arms as the saviours of our degraded ecosystems. Now there are some species of non-native species that have definitely been beneficial in some places - I'm thinking of the rabbit in the UK which has probably proven far more beneficial in terms of providing food for our predatory mammals and birds than destructive in destroying crops while in Australia I'm guessing it's been far more destructive.

One of my problems with this book is that Pearce treats non-natives that have moved into new territories themselves as essentially the same as non native species that have been introduced by humans. The first generally are an ecological adaptation to changing conditions (species colonising new volcanic islands for example, or species moving north as the climate warms) while the second have been brought in artificially. The latter are much more likely to become problematic - think the three main invasive plants in Scotland (giant hogweed, Himalayan Balsam and the dreaded Japanese Knotweed that, if it is discovered in your garden is likely to make your house impossible to sell) or kudzu in the USA.

My other problem is that Pearce seems to see things as a balance sheet, he admits that introduced species in Hawaii, for example, have lead to some native species becoming extinct, but, he says, this is okay because there are more new species than extinct species. This overlooks the fact that every extinct species is a unique species that will never return from extinction and that specific species and all its genetic information has now been lost.

On the other hand, Pearce makes some good points. Why don't we consider more often how to use invasive species in a practical way, instead of just removing them? (For example Japanese Knotweed apparently can be eaten like rhubarb, but rules in the UK say it can't be transported from a site where it has been removed and must be burned on site, so no Japanese Knotweed pie unless made surreptitiously on site). Ecology is more fluid than many scientists have previously thought and than most of us have probably been taught and humans have historically had more impact on even the most seemingly pristine environments (incuding the Amazon) than we suspected until recently and nature can reclaim these areas surprisingly quickly, though the ecology will be different afterwards than it was pre-human impact. Also the human degradation of the environment is often the reason that some non-native species become invasive and cause problems. If the ecosystem was healthier, then the new species would be more likely to be kept in check and become an interesting addition to the ecology of a place rather than causing chaos (and there are some very interesting examples of this in the book).

So this is a fascinating book, which is guaranteed to make you think.
Profile Image for Rosemary.
1,380 reviews15 followers
June 17, 2019
This book would benefit from some ruthless editing, but is so eye-opening that I'm still giving it 5 stars.

Fred Pearce convincingly shows that invasive species can be made the scapegoat for other environmental problems such as pollution and overgrazing. He also debunks scientific claims like that of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which states that invasive species are involved in "nearly 40 per cent of all animal extinctions for which the cause is known" (in this case he traces the reference back to a single paper with data mainly about Hawaii).

There were plenty of examples of how resilient native flora and fauna can be, in places like Ascension Island, the badlands of the Thames, Chernobyl's exclusion zone, tropical Africa, and the new volcanic island of Surtsey.

I'd never previously heard that three quarters of the world's surviving orang-utans live in timber plantations rather than old growth forests, and that biodiversity in the logged-over concessions of Kalimantan in Borneo is in better condition than many of the protected areas.

Pearce says that "No green group stands up to protect secondary forests" (p.208). He may only be referring to the tropics, but certainly green groups in my region of Gippsland, Australia, have tried (unsuccessfully) to protest against logging of 30-year regrowth forest which was home to koalas.

Pearce gives a number of examples of short-sighted decisions by conservationists, which I can well relate to. Back in 2014, our local Council had a policy of cutting down all roadside apple and plum trees and poisoning the stumps, with the aim of creating "native indigenous vegetation corridors". However without a revegetation plan, the bare soil was left open to less desirable invasive species such as blackberry. The non-native fruit trees are also valuable in themselves. Our Heritage Fruits Society trawls the countryside searching for chance apple seedlings with desirable characteristics such as flavour, colour and keeping qualities. By destroying wild apple trees we were losing a valuable gene pool for research and commercial cultivation. And our local Landcare group voiced concern that there could be a significant impact to native birdlife, possums and other fauna, as they had come to rely on non-native fruit trees as a source of food

It took us a media campaign, petition and formal meeting with Council to get a moratorium on destroying any more roadside fruit trees. More here: Threat of Destruction of Roadside Fruit Trees

As I understand it, Pearce concludes that some extinctions, while regrettable, are unavoidable unless we micromanage ecosystems like a giant zoo or theme park (which he doesn't object to). But even then, he says, "fortress conservation is a doomed enterprise". He takes heart from the "new wild" pioneered by alien species which can adapt and change and look after themselves in the face of climate change and other human activity.

I would highly recommend this book to conservationists who want to make informed, pragmatic, and evidence-based decisions.
Profile Image for Nicole.
368 reviews22 followers
September 29, 2020
There are times when it comes across that an author seems particularly impressed by their own cleverness. Fred Pearce is one of those authors, at least in this book. He starts off strong by asking a series of questions that are worthwhile pondering. Why do we blame invasive species for ruining habitat when often times it is really our fault for mucking things up? Is it just another form of xenophobia? Do invasive plants have a function beyond that, like in the rehabilitation of areas of environmental degradation? Is there such a thing as a "pure" natural ecosystem? What is the aim of conservation?

As Pearce builds steam, he indulges in a slightly condescending tone toward conservationists, like he's figured out something none of them have. He doesn't necessarily advocate letting an invasive species run amok, but it felt like he was too married to his position to strike a balance. As the book goes on, it starts to feel like a bit of a justification of colonization, like "Hey, it wasn't such a bad thing that Europeans sought to colonize the world, that's just nature doing its thing!" While this may be true to some extent, his focus on sources that support his point and the negligence of anything to contrary didn't sit right with me. Yes, there's likely no such thing as an ecosystem that is totally untouched by humankind, but doesn't that imply that we might also serve to help preserve balance?

Across the street from my house, a city-owned green space has been languishing for years. Ivy is choking the trees, slowly killing them, while blackberries are taking over the rest of the lot. Should we just let the trees die, falling into and blocking the creek? If the native plants can't hold their own against the nightshade and morning glory, should we just let them be overwhelmed? I'm a fan of the work of Robin Wall Kimmerer, who advocates for a reciprocal relationship with nature that reflects an indigenous worldview. It may be simplistic to think of invasive species as the root of all evil, but so is saying that we should just let nature take its course. We evolved to be stewards of the land, and when we knock things off balance, it is on us to help navigate the fallout.

Though problematic, I see "The New Wild" ultimately as a call for a more nuanced position when thinking of ecology and conservation. Rather than engaging in short-sighted and drastic action when an invasive species takes hold in a new ecosystem, we should observe it over time, and perhaps aim for temperance rather than eradication. Above all, we should own the effect that we've had on the natural world, and be willing to work with where we are rather than how we think it should be.
Profile Image for Jared.
143 reviews
December 4, 2016
Pearce challenges traditional ecology and conservation in this book. He argues that invasive species are beneficial and provide the raw material for the future in a planet undergoing great change.

He begins the book with several chapters detailing the wide range of invasions occurring around the globe. He masterfully captures the scope of what has become invasion biology. Along the way he plants the seed of his thesis by questioning the validity to traditional claims.

His next section delves more into his thesis in which he attempts to deconstruct the stigma placed upon invasive species. He points out how much of Earth's landscape has been disturbed and makes a strong argument against the pristine.

He finishes with a perspective on how new and rare species are surviving in novel habitats. Indeed, he points to areas commonly devoid of humans thus allowing any wildlife to thrive. He argues for conservation to stop looking backward at the old, and face the exciting new, in which he feels invasive species are leading the way.

The book is written for anyone to read, but it can be misleading. For example, a person not trained in science can read it and see the author's often derogatory comments about scientists and conservation and possibly lead them to distort science. In an day when there is a large anti-science movement, this is a bad thing. However, a scientist reading the book will recognize many exciting discussion that can generate new research.

Pearce fails to provide a good foundation in many basic biological concepts for the reader. The book would be improved with greater explanations of community formation, biodiversity, and the process of invasion. Pearce glosses over these topics, yet they could help inform the reader more and better evaluate some of his arguments.

In all, I am afraid that this book will turn many people away from science and not contribute to bringing the larger public into appreciating and understanding the complexities of science. I feel that scientists and researcher who read this may walk away with a renewed interest in invasive species and possibly evaluate their own perspective of ecology and conservation.
147 reviews2 followers
June 27, 2015
This is a fascinating and very encouraging read on the topic of invasive species. The author seeks to tone down the hysteria vis a vis 'invasive species' by convincingly making a few key points:

1. It is inevitable. Although we tend to think in very short terms, exotic species introduction has been going on for the entirety of the history of life via natural means, and via human means for tens of thousands of years. Quite simply, we do not have the tools to eradicate invasive species even from very small, isolated areas like islands. Because it is irreversible, we may as well accept it.

2. Invasive species do not in fact reduce genetic diversity or in general cause extinctions. There is simply no data to support this. There are absolutely a handful of examples which are horrific, such as introduced mice growing to gargantuan size and mauling flightless bird chicks. In the vast majority of situations however, invasive species fill a niche and globally, number of species in specific areas actually increases.

3. Invasive species tend to thrive in areas already f$cked up by human activity. Urban badlands, mine tailings, polluted water ways, and irradiated wastelands often begin their recovery with a preponderance of a handful of invasive species. As soil conditions moderate and time goes on, native species will start to reclaim their former exclusive territory.

4. The environmental movement has an invested interest in inciting fear about the damage of invasive species. Grant money and donations are at stake, even to support efforts which are doomed to failure. This is NOT to say that conservation is bad, but only to indicate the hubris for those who think it is even possible to revert nature to a past state. The math used to calculate the damage of invasive species is shown to be far, far overblown.
Profile Image for Jamie Maltman.
Author 4 books24 followers
July 7, 2015
What an excellent, thought-provoking book. A must read for anyone interested in biodiversity and conservation of flora and fauna.

Fred Pearce challenges so many misguided myths and assumptions that can actually prove counterproductive when it comes to being an ally for a healthy natural world, in an engaging journalistic style. Far too many resources are being expended researching just a few narrow areas of so-called "invasive species," who get a really bum rap and are often the beneficiaries of the fall of native species, not the cause. He concludes with some food for thought on how we can partner with nature and individual species in the best ways going forward on this dynamic, ever-changing world we call home.

Another fantastic recommendation from Hugh Howey.
Profile Image for Pete.
804 reviews52 followers
October 31, 2021
The New Wild (2016) by Fred Pearce is a fascinating different perspective on introduced species and their role in ecosystems. Fred Pearce is an environmental writer who writes for New Scientist.

Pearce puts forward the idea that landscapes that are truly untouched by man are very rare and possibly don’t even exist. He puts forward many, many examples of species that are regarded as native that have been brought in. He also points out that naturally with a changing climate species have been moving forever.

The book recounts how a new volcanic island was rapidly colonised by species from elsewhere. He also writes about Ascension Island in the South Atlantic that had hardly any vegetation but that visitors turned into a rich ecosystem. But it is far from an untouched one.

In the nineteenth century there were Acclimatisation Societies in the UK, France, the US and in other places that deliberately introduced foreign species. Almost all their attempts failed but some are still there and a very tiny proportion have flourished. It’s remarkable how attitudes have changed. Pearce points out that the costings of the impacts of new species are very unreliable and rely on dubious assumptions.

Five minutes walk away from where I live is a reserve. There are a group of people who live in the suburb who try and conserve the reserve. They are not just against non-native plants but also against native plants that have migrated or been moved from a hundred kilometers away or more. It’s an attempt to try and garden the bush. Australians talk about how prior to European colonisation the Australian landscape was pristine. They celebrate the Dingo. However, the Dingo was only introduced 5000 years ago. When the Australian Aborigines arrived ~40 000 years ago various mega fauna also disappeared. The landscape that Australians see as pristine was already impacted by man. Today rabbits, cats, cane toads, foxes, camels, horses and other species all live in Australia and have for over a century despite repeated attempts to exterminate them. The New Wild makes you question whether all these efforts are worthwhile and perhaps the Australian landscape should be accepted as it is now rather than by picking a point sometime in the past.

Pearce speaks to a number of biologists who question the idea that ecologists should be trying to keep back the tide against invasive species and whether they should not be accepted as life that has managed to survive somewhere else. They reject the idea of a stable ‘balance of nature’ that can only be restored by substantial human intervention.

Finally Pearce puts forward the idea that new, changing ecologies should be embraced as the way that nature really is, a place where species often find a niche and thrive, often with many other species, both native and non-native together.

The New Wild is a really thought provoking book. It would very much be worth a read for anyone interested in ecology. It’s a book that actually has a new idea to ponder.
Profile Image for Alex Howard.
157 reviews
March 13, 2019
So overall I do agree with the general message of this book, that nature is an changing process that should be allowed to evolve, but it felt very repetitive. Also, the author seems to have a weird obsession with trying to prove that he's got these revolutionary new ideas that 'conservationists' don't agree, but doesn't seem to understand that people disagreeing is a fundamental part of science? He does include some interesting examples, but all in all I didn't feel much motivation to finish it.
Profile Image for Tim.
210 reviews4 followers
August 9, 2018
I’m sure there’s a good book to be written about 'invasive' species, but this certainly isn’t it. It seems to me Pearce had made his mind up from the beginning what his conclusion was going to be and was determined not to let facts, poor understanding or flawed arguments get in the way of stating it. My suspicions began to be confirmed where he claims that the decline of water voles was in part down to attempts to control muskrats. I can find nothing to support this assertion. He then claims the mink was falsely implicated in the decline, but again no reputable source agrees with him, and the reference he quotes in support of this view actually states the opposite! I did not spend time in a detailed fact checking of everything he wrote, but finding that the one area where it is easy to check his claim was so flawed does not give me any confidence in the rest of his claims. (I do however additionally suspect his interpretation of Steve Hubbell's work as his spin implies a failure to understand how evolution works, which I doubt an ecologist would be guilty of.)

Next comes flawed arguments. There are plenty of these to choose from - for instance saying that because most alien species are not a problem, then none can be. Or his take on the Kudzu vine, where he assumes that limited research into its effects mean that it therefore can’t be a problem, and then giving spurious economic benefits of the plant as if that makes any loss biodiversity from its invasive nature OK. His defense of Rhododendron ponticum takes a similar approach - an out of context quote about the benefits of the plant in certain circumstances is given as evidence that it there can be no way it could ever be a problem.

My favourite though is his defence of brownfield sites. He first claims (quite wrongly) that conservation organisations have no interest in them before quoting representatives of two such conservation organisations to back up his case that they do harbour valuable biodiversity. Despite one of these being from one of the biggest conservation bodies in the UK he then says that such large organisations don’t care about such sites, before stating we shouldn’t be preserving them anyway! I have no idea what point he was trying to make here.

A rather more disturbing claim is that concern about alien species is rooted in xenophobia. He says he is not accusing conservationists of being xenophobic, but later on in the book he quite clearly does, so his denial seems spurious. Anyone who works with conservationists knows what a load of bleeding heart liberals they are, and far less likely to show any signs of prejudice than most people. If you want to look for xenophobia you need to look for it in those who are only too happy argue we have no need to worry about our natural environment. To invoke such a comparison seems to be an unwarranted slur, and one that perhaps hints at a lack of firm foundation to the thrust of his book.

And that’s where my final and most serious criticism lies. Any book that criticises our attempts to preserve nature should surely start off by analysing why we want to do so. Yet nowhere does Pearce tackle this question. He quite rightly points out towards the end of the book that nature has no interest in biodiversity. Whatever harm we do to our natural environment and the variety of species it contains will soon be fixed by a few million years of evolution, although whether will will feature in that future world may be in doubt. (This also makes nonsense of the books tag line ‘Why invasive species will be nature's salvation’ - nature has no need to be saved by anything we do.)

Our attempts to preserve biodiversity are rooted in our own needs and values, and should be examined in the context of what those needs and values are. The species we share this planet with, and the ecosystems they make up, are our natural heritage. They give us pleasure, a source of wonder, and the opportunity to learn about our origins and how the world around us functions. For many of us they make life much richer. Future generations too deserve to enjoy those benefits. Anyone who has seen what some invasive species can do, left unchecked, will know that the barren monoculture they produce robs us of something irreplaceable. So however altered the natural world already is by our activities, it still holds great value for humanity.

This book is not totally without value, for there are some interesting questions raised about the effect of aliens species and how they sometimes can be surprisingly beneficial, but that is largely lost in Pearce's polemic.
322 reviews9 followers
October 2, 2017
Wow. Far out. Wowza. I am impressed. Read this book and think about nature differently.
I borrowed this book from the library once before but didn't read it. I thought I would read it then & completely disagree with the author (know thy enemy) but I couldn't be bothered. Then I read eco-sinner & realised Fred Pearce is a very good environmental reporter so I looked at this book again with fresh eyes. Well I am bloody glad I did.
Yes, the world will be over run with rats, cats & rhododendrons. Yes we will lose some of the big favourite species like Polar bears and orang-otans. That is very sad, no-one is denying that. But hating all alien species cause they're alien isn't really so different from racist xenophobia, all species should be considered on their merits. I have been coming round to that way of thinking anyway, I used to hate pigeons but they don't hurt me, why the hatred? So then I started thinking of them as refugees, which isn't really true but I don't hate them anymore. That is a pretty far out idea, that we should allow the vulnerable 'weak' species who can't survive without human management to die out and to let the fittest survive. In some ways, that is a major cop out and is completely denying the human influence causing these weak species to die out. I'd like to see anyone call a polar bear weak to his or her face.
But as well, I think it's a crock of shit that cats are the worst thing in the Australian environment. Bull dozers are. I read Animal Nation a few years ago (a book that is quoted in the new wild) and it said that Aboriginal people in the centre have accepted the cat as a native and use it as food source. I remember the doco on ABC TV about that. I talked to an Aboriginal bloke about it & he said that some people have cats as their totem animal, that the cat has been here for 1000's of years. It hasn't, but for people with an oral history tradition (which has been fragmented & broken apart) the cat is part of their life & their ancestors life so it's native, in their eyes.
The alien invasive species covering denuded landscapes may be regenerating the soil, may be providing much needed habitat for native species or it could be a problem. Fred doesn't hate kudzu, or crazy ants, or anything. Things can get out of hand in the wrong place but no species is inherently good or bad and there is no such thing as a pristine environment. Nature is in a constant state of flux and trying to pin down some imagined ideal is impossible though that is basically what conservationists do. Serengeti is a man made construct and is no more pristine than my fourth floor balcony.
Many fascinating stories, anecdotes and facts. Very interesting chapter about how the native tstese fly destroyed Africa's cattle wealth paving the way for slavery. Shocking facts about Australian management ineptness dropping so much poison onto an island the soil is toxic.
His point basically is Nature will survive, it just may not look how we expected.
I do think he pushed the argument as far as he could and there were times I actively disagreed with him but it's good to read a book that makes you think, and one with a very differing view point than the usual conservation orthodoxy.
I also would have liked a bibliography, I was in fact looking forward to perusing it. Yes he references as he goes along but a bibliography from good book is a jumping off place. I've read books and then read another 5 from the bib so it's disappointing Fred doesn't include one.
Profile Image for Holly.
53 reviews2 followers
August 27, 2017
This book is a fascinating (and necessary) challenge to our accepted ideas of nature, wildness, and environmentalism. Fred Pearce makes a case for invasives - first by arguing that, more often than not, they are scapegoats for our own environmental misdeeds, and that their actual impact is often far less than what we assume it to be; and second, that invasives and non-natives will be nature's future. In other words, in a world increasingly modified by human impacts, the species best able to survive are not always the beloved native flora and fauna (though Fred Pearce goes further, challenging our notions of what "native" even means, and reminding us that ecosystems are systems in constant flux, with no stable state and no endpoint; they have always changed and will always continue to change, rendering the concepts of native or non-native moot); rather, it'll be the newcomers that are best-suited to the landscapes of the anthropocene, the flora and fauna that have arrived accidentally or been introduced, and which are hardy and resilient in the face of human pressures.

This may be a hard read for the conservationist committed to protecting ecosystems against human impact and change (I worked at nature reserves for years, so this was especially interesting to me); and certainly a lot of points are highly controversial (for instance, how do we feel about new and invasive viruses, diseases, and pests?). But what's great about this book is not that you have to agree with all of it, but rather quite simply that it starts a conversation that really needs to be had right now: we live on a planet that has been heavily modified by humans - the idea of a truly "pristine" landscape simply doesn't exist anymore - and pure conservation, a return to the past, is not a viable option (Fred Pearce suggests that areas of conservation, what with all the tending they'll need, are essentially glorified zoos or gardens). So now it's time to start talking about how we define ecosystems and ecological success, and whether that can begin include the species that seem best suited to survive in man-modified landscapes.

It's important to mention that the author does *not* see his conclusions as a justification for simply letting loose and ceasing to care about nature preservation, on the assumption that nature will get along fine with invasives & non-natives filling in the gaps as we wantonly modify the environment; quite the opposite. He sees it as our responsibility to continue to behave in as environmentally responsible a way as possible: certainly we can pour effort into preventing further introduction of non-native species, but Pearce argues that time spent getting rid of the non-native species that have already established themselves is time that could be better spent elsewhere.
Profile Image for Rosie Evans.
31 reviews2 followers
May 12, 2020
An interesting and provocative look at the political side of conservationism which I feel makes some spurious assertions.
Whilst there were some interesting points, I felt the author missed opportunities to talk about the social history behind why attitudes in traditional conservation might be this way ie fortress conservation (a term first mentioned on page 249 of 250) and the moral climatology of the colonial era, and its legacy. He also seems to assume that conservationists advocating rewilding want to see pristine human-less wild landscapes return, but my interpretation was that with rewilding in many settings humans and non-humans could and should live alongside, with sustainable agriculture/resource gathering a part of this.
His reasoning that nature is almost boundlessly resilient could also be misinterpreted; nature can bounce back, but it needs to be given a chance, and he makes no comment that the current rate of environmental change is faster than most species can keep up with - and why should they?
I found it curious he makes no mention of the intrinsic value of nature and biodiversity. His commentary is largely about utility and efficiency.
He does offer some interesting and hopeful observations, however, and illustrates how attempts to control nature are often unsuccessful.
Profile Image for Esther Marie.
263 reviews12 followers
August 15, 2016
I expected to hate this book immensely, but tried to read it with an open mind. As a history of some notable invasive species, it is a really interesting read. It is NOT, however, a book with especially good science. As I think some other reviewers have mentioned, Pearce criticizes the lack of scientific data related to management of certain invasives, but then turns around and makes wildly speculative statements of his own without any data to back himself up--come on; that's just bad writing and bad science.

As a whole, I did end up enjoying this book. It's always good to critically assess one's beliefs--such as the belief that invasive species are a bad thing. Land management is not a simple thing. The danger with Pearce's book is that some might come away from the reading with the thought that land management is meaningless--this is viewpoint is potentially very damaging. Therefore, in spite of the fact that Pearce did a much better job than I expected, I can only recommend this book to those who already know something about invasives. Unless you're able to cut through the propaganda and bullshit, this book will do you more harm than good.
Profile Image for Rhys.
707 reviews94 followers
August 28, 2018
Much of what Fred Pearce discusses in The New Wild represents the direction of restoration ecology and the pragmatism coming out of ecosystem researchers, like those studying island forests on the Canadian prairies - how to keep 'nature' as resilient and 'productive' as possible well into the future (for other species, but let's face it, mostly for humans). The time for 'purist' restoration/preservation/conservation perspectives may have passed, Pearce says.

My only concern with this book is that the anecdotes mainly center on lands (or water bodies) that have recovered in their way once humans have abandoned their intensive use. If human disturbance continues, then even invasive aliens have no niche as there is no ecosystem. Pearce clearly states, "But it is not a call to let rip. It simply offers hope and realism" (p.164), so I assume that the 'hope' is that human will eventually relinquish their use of enough land and stop polluting the water and air to allow for other species to evolve.
Profile Image for Lyn.
674 reviews3 followers
December 4, 2016
Really interesting and provocative book that challenges the conservation strategies employed almost worldwide. The author provides compelling evidence that our fight against "alien" species, in order to try to return to some imagined pristine environmental state where everything "belongs", is futile. True wildness, he argues, has always consisted of a changing cast of flora and fauna introduced by humans, animals, wind, weather and other naturally occurring events.
He makes a plea for this war on "aliens" to cease and for us to step back from trying to order nature and allow nature to take its course.
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