26 Organizations Working to Conserve Seed Biodiversity
By Katie Howell
More than 6,000 plant species have been cultivated for food worldwide, but only nine account for the majority of total crop production, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). FAO finds that crop diversity is continuing to decline across the globe because of unsustainable agricultural practices, industrialization, and increased urbanization.
Collecting and organizing genetic diversity as a conservation strategy emerged in the 1960s and now plays an important role in ensuring the world's collective food security. Seed saving organizations have helped secure over 100,000 seeds during wartime in Syria, preserve 13 million seeds from over 70 species of native trees in the United Kingdom, and contribute to over US$77 million in pastoral agriculture revenue in New Zealand. As the climate crisis continues, seed preservation may also be critical in research and innovation to help farmers adapt to changing conditions.
Seed conservation can occur on-site in farmers' fields or protected areas, referred to as in situ, or in off-site collections, known as ex situ conservation. Ex situ collections represent the most widespread conservation strategy for plant genetics–it includes seeds kept in cold storage, living plants grown in open field seed banks, or tissue, DNA, embryos, or pollen samples stored in vitro. "Such genebank collections provide a means to make unique biodiversity available cheaply, and effectively, for the long-term," according to Crop Trust, a leading organization dedicated to conserving crop biodiversity.
According to FAO, there are more than 1,750 ex situ seed banks across the world – both international and local – that preserve over 7 million samples of seeds, cuttings, or genetic material. To celebrate these efforts, Food Tank has selected 26 seed saving organizations working to promote seed diversity through seed banks, exchange networks, and educational programs.
1. ASEED Europe, Netherlands
Action for Solidarity, Equality, Environment, and Diversity (ASEED Europe) aims to achieve social justice and environmental integrity through grassroots organizing, education, and non-violent direct action. Founded in 1991, ASEED Europe organizes international campaigns focused on the decline of biodiversity in agriculture, the availability of seeds, and corporate concentration in the food system. They offer educational materials and training on topics such as seeds, climate change, trade, and food sovereignty.
2. Australian PlantBank, Australia
The Australian PlantBank is the largest native plant conservation seed bank in Australia. Housing over 100 million individual seeds in 10,000 seed collections, it has become one of the world's most biodiverse seed banks. Located in New South Wales, the PlantBank uses seed banking, cryostorage, and tissue culture for conservation, horticulture, restoration, and research efforts. They also offer educational tours to teach visitors about the important conservation work of scientists.
3. Botanical Research Institute of Texas, United States
Founded in 1987, The Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT)'s mission is to conserve natural heritage by educating the public about the value of plants. BRIT operates the Conservation Seed Laboratory and Seed Bank as a part of their larger Texas Plant Conservation Program. In 2017, BRIT joined the Center of Plant Conservation (CPC) to help Texas organizations protect and preserve rare and endangered native plants. Through community education programs and workshops, research initiatives, and events, BRIT aims to increase awareness about sustainable stewardship and the importance of plant diversity.
4. Cherokee Nation Seed Bank, United States
The Cherokee Nation Seed Bank is maintained by The Cherokee Nation Heirloom Garden and Native Plant Site. The bank collects rare, native plants from the Cherokee regions. Representing centuries of Cherokee history, the Seed Bank provides an opportunity to continue traditions of ancestors, as well as educate youth about the Cherokee Nation's agricultural past. Seeds may be requested by community members; varieties include heirloom corn, tobacco, and gourds. Additionally, the organization offers educational materials like planting guides to help growers maintain the plants' genetic integrity.
5. Camino Verde, United States & Peru
Camino Verde is a United States-based nonprofit with locations in Concord, Massachusetts and Puerto Maldonado, Peru. Camino Verde's mission is to plant trees and encourage future planting through educational programs and public awareness. From 2007 to 2016, Camino Verde worked to establish a Living Seed Bank of over 400 species of trees. With these seeds, they created a restoration forest center, planting over 25,000 trees whose nurseries now produce over 200,000 seedlings each year. The organization also works with farmers and native communities in the Amazon of Peru to help bring back forests to areas degraded by agriculture, gold mining, and ranching.
6. Crop Trust, Germany
The Crop Trust is an international organization whose mission is to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide. Through its Crop Diversity Endowment Fund, the Crop Trust funds the world's largest genebanks, including the Consultative Group for International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) genebank platform, Svalbard Global Seed Vault, and Seeds for Resilience–a project supporting five seed banks in Sub-Saharan Africa. The organization also works to develop government conservation strategies.
Located in St. Petersburg, the Federal Research Center All-Russian Institute of Plant Genetic Resources, or the Vavilov Research Institute (VRI), was founded in 1921 and has since expanded into 12 research stations throughout Russia. As the world's oldest and largest seed bank, they house a total of 60,000 seed varieties and their herbariums contain some 250,000 cultivated plant specimens and their wild relatives.
8. Hawai'i Public Seed Initiative, United States
The Hawai'i Public Seed Initiative (HPSI) was created by The Kohula Center in 2010 and is funded by the Ceres Trust. The initiative works to identify and save seed varieties best suited for the island's soils and climates. Through community seed networks and workshops, HPSI teaches people to select, grow, harvest, store, and improve seed varieties that can strengthen the state's food security. HPSI holds events to develop seed leaders across the state, including on Hawai'i Island, Kaua'i, O'ahu, Maui, and Moloka'i.
9. Irish Seed Savers, Ireland
The Irish Seeds Savers was founded in 1991 in County Carlow, before moving to Scarriff, Ireland. The organization aims to raise public awareness about the vulnerability of Irish agricultural biodiversity. They provide educational workshops to schools and community groups and aim to facilitate conversations between governments, universities, and gene banks. The Irish Seed Savers maintain a public seed bank with over 600 non-commercially available varieties of heirloom and heritage seeds, including rare vegetables, soft fruit, flowers, grains, potatoes, and apple trees.
10. International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia
Headquartered in Colombia, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) is a CGIAR research center focused on promoting agrobiodiversity and sustainable agroecosystems in Africa, Asian, Latin America, and the Caribbean. CIAT conducts crop research with its extensive genebank, which holds the largest global collection of beans, cassava, and tropical forages. CIAT provides seed samples free of charge to any individual or organization anywhere in the world for the purposes of research, breeding, or training.
11. Louisiana Native Plant Initiative, United States
The Louisiana Native Plant Initiative (LNPI) is a multi-agency effort that helps conserve native plants. The National Resource Conservation Service of Louisiana collaborates with their many partners to collect seeds, preserve native varieties, increase flora abundance, and research plant materials for future revegetation projects. The initiative has spearheaded several conservation projects to protect species such as the longleaf pine, switchgrass, big bluestem, little bluestem, smooth cordgrass, eastern gamagrass, and partridge pea.
12. Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst, England
The Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst is a world leader in on-site conservation of wild plant species. The majority of the seed collections in the Seed Bank at Wakehurst are curated by the larger Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, a seed conversation network active in over 80 countries around the world. Currently, there are more than 92,500 seed collections in the bank, which represent over 40,000 species.
13. National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Perseveration (NLGRP), United States
Located on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation (NLGRP) is home to one of the world's largest plant and animal gene banks. NLGRP's mission is to support U.S. agriculture in producing high-quality food, feed, and fiber by acquiring, evaluating, preserving, and distributing critical genetic resources. In its plant division, the laboratory manages more than 10,000 plant species in long-term storage and on fields, orchards, and nature reserves.
14. Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, United States
Indigenous Seed Keeper Network (ISKN) is an initiative of the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (NAFSA), a non-profit organization aimed at leveraging resources to support tribal food sovereignty projects. The mission of the Network is to nourish and assist the growing seed sovereignty movement across Turtle Island. ISKN provides educational resources, mentorship training, outreach, and advocacy support on seed policy issues, and organizes convenings to connect communities engaged in this work. Sierra Seeds, a nonprofit sister program to ISKN, also uses mentorship and education to create greater sustainability in food and seed systems by sharing essential practical skills and promoting seed literacy.
15. Native Seeds/SEARCH, United States
Based in Tucson, Arizona, Native Seeds/SEARCH (NS/S) aims to conserve and promote arid-adapted crop diversity in the southwest United States. Since it was founded as a nonprofit organization in 1983, NS/S has established a reputation as a leader in heirloom conservation. Its seed bank holds nearly 2,000 varieties of crops adapted to landscapes extending from southern Colorado to Mexico. These varieties include traditional crops such as corn, beans, and squash used by the Apache, Havasupai, Hopi, Maricopa, Mayo, and many other tribes.
16. Navdanya, India
Navdanya is a research-based initiative founded by Dr. Vandana Shiva, a world-renowned scientist and environmentalist. The organization is a network of seed keepers and organic producers that works across 22 states in India. Navdanya has helped set up over 150 community seed banks over the last 30 years. The organization has conserved and promoted undervalued crops such as millets, pulses, and pseudo-cereals and saved over 4,000 rice varieties. They also conduct research on sustainable farming practices and have provided training to over 750,000 farmers on food and seed sovereignty.
17. New York City Native Plant Conservation Initiative, United States
The New York City Native Plant Conservation Initiative began in 2008 as a partnership between the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. In response to declining native plant populations due to increasing urbanization, the initiative works to maximize long-term conservation of diverse native species. Launched with 34 endangered species, conservation efforts include collecting seeds, preparing and implementing protocols for restoration and management of native plant populations, and raising public awareness of the status of native plants in NYC.
18. Pima County Seed Library, United States
The Seed Library is a collection of open-pollinated and heirloom seeds in Pima County, Arizona. The library works to create local seed stocks that are acclimated to desert climate and support an abundant and genetically diverse landscape. The collection helps to support gardeners and educate community members about how to grow, harvest, and save seeds. Made up of almost 250 types of seeds, varieties include beans, flowers, herbs, melons, and more.
19. Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, United States
The Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance (RMSA) is a nonprofit organization working to create a network of seed growers, distributors, and educators in the Rocky Mountain West region of the United States. Founded in 2014, RMSA emphasizes sharing of seed saving knowledge to preserve and promote the use of regionally adapted crops, herbs, wildflowers, and native grass seeds. To create a more resilient food system, the organization provides seed education resources, runs an online seed school, hosts an international seed festival, operates a regional seed vault, and more.
20. SeedChange, Canada
Formerly USC Canada, SeedChange is working to fight for farmers' rights to fair wages, land, and seeds around the globe. Through partnerships with nonprofits, they support over 30,000 small-scale farmers to restore degraded lands, share seeds, and start businesses. SeedChange projects are rooted in a Seeds of Survival approach, which emphasizes the importance of local seeds and local knowledge. They support about 70 seed banks run by the communities in which they are located, and hundreds of home seed banks cared for by the farmers in their own homes.
21. Seed Savers Exchange, United States
The Seed Savers Exchange is a nonprofit in Winneshiek County, Iowa that focuses on stewarding and sharing a large collection of open-pollinated seed varieties across the U.S. Founded in 1975, the organization works to ensure the preservation of diverse heirloom seeds to guarantee future food security. Today, Seed Savers Exchange has over 20,000 plant varieties and 13,000 members.
22. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, United States
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, located in central Virginia, is focused on seed varieties that grow well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern U.S. Operating as a cooperative, the organization offers 800 varieties of vegetable, herb, flower, grain, and cover crop seeds. Sixty percent of their seed varieties are certified organic and over 60 percent of seeds come from small farmers. Some unique Southern heirlooms they offer include peanuts, okra, naturally colored cotton, butterbeans, and roselle.
23. Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway
Opened by the Norwegian government in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the world's largest secure seed storage facility. Also referred to as the doomsday vault, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault holds duplicates of seed samples from other regional, national, and international gene banks to serve as backup storage in case of emergency. Svalbard has the capacity to house 2.25 billion seeds, equaling 500 seeds of 4.5 million crop varieties. The seed vault is run by the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Nordic Gene Resource Centre, and the Global Crop Diversity Trust. It currently holds seeds of more than 4,000 plant species.
24. The Germplasm Bank of Wild Species, China
Created in 2004, The Germplasm Bank of Wild Species has collected over 80,000 seed samples from over 10,000 species of wild plants. The project is operated by the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and includes a seed bank, DNA bank, microbial bank, animal germplasm bank, and seed biology research center. According to one news source, by the end of 2018, the organization's seed storage accounted for one-third of the total wild plant species nationwide, making it the largest in Asia and the second of its kind globally.
25. The World Vegetable Center, Taiwan
The World Vegetable Center was founded in 1971 as the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC). Today, the Center conducts research, builds networks, and carries out training activities to raise awareness of the role of vegetables for improved health and poverty alleviation around the globe. The Center's Genebank is the world's largest vegetable germplasm collection, holding over 61,000 accessions–plant materials collected from different areas–sourced from 155 countries. Since its founding, the Center has distributed more than 600,000 seed samples to researchers in the public and private sectors in at least 180 countries. Their work has led to the release of hundreds of varieties throughout the world, especially in developing countries. The World Vegetable Center Genebank is part of the global germplasm network, Genesys.
26. Vrihi, India
Vrihi, the Sandskrit word for "rice", was founded by ecologist Dr. Debal Deb and is now the largest folk rice seed bank in Eastern India. In 1997, Vrihi began as a partnership of a nationwide folk crop conservation movement between the Centre of Interdisciplinary Studies (CIS) and Dr. Vandana Shiva's Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE). Since 2000, Vrihi has been an independent organization, working to promote the cultivation of folk rice varieties and reestablish non-commercial seed exchange.
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
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As Biden Embraces More Ambitious Climate Plan, Fossil Fuel Execs Donate to Trump 'With Greater Zeal' Than in 2016
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While the nation overall struggles with rising COVID cases, New York State is seeing the opposite. After peaking in March and April and implementing strict shutdowns of businesses, the state has seen its number of positive cases steadily decline as it slowly reopens. From coast-to-coast, Governor Andrew Cuomo's response to the crisis has been hailed as an exemplar of how to handle a public health crisis.
By Gavin Naylor
Sharks elicit outsized fear, even though the risk of a shark bite is infinitesimally small. As a marine biologist and director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, I oversee the International Shark Attack File – a global record of reported shark bites that has been maintained continuously since 1958.
A Big, Diverse Family<p>Not all sharks are the same. Only a dozen or so of the roughly 520 shark species pose any risk to people. Even the three species that account for almost all shark bite fatalities – the <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharodon-carcharias/" target="_blank">white shark</a> (<em>Carcharodon carcharias</em>), <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/galeocerdo-cuvier/" target="_blank">tiger shark</a> (<em>Galeocerdo cuvier</em>) and <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharhinus-leucas/" target="_blank">bull shark</a> (<em>Carcharhinus leucas</em>) – are behaviorally and evolutionarily very different from one another.</p><p>The tiger shark and bull shark are genetically as different from each other as a dog is from a rabbit. And both of these species are about as different from a white shark as a dog is from a kangaroo. The evolutionary lineages leading to the two groups split 170 million years ago, during the age of dinosaurs and before the origin of birds, and <a href="https://www.ck12.org/book/CK-12-Human-Biology/section/7.2/" target="_blank">110 million years before the origin of primates</a>.</p>
White, tiger and bull sharks are distinct species that diverged genetically tens of millions of years ago. Gavin Naylor / CC BY-ND<p>Yet many people assume all sharks are alike and equally likely to bite humans. Consider the term "shark attack," which is scientifically equivalent to "mammal attack." Nobody would equate dog bites with hamster bites, but this is exactly what we do when it comes to sharks.</p><p>So, when a reporter calls me about a fatality caused by a white shark off Cape Cod and asks my advice for beachgoers in North Carolina, it's essentially like asking, "A man was killed by a dog on Cape Cod. What precautions should people take when dealing with kangaroos in North Carolina?"</p>
Know Your Species<p>Understanding local species' behavior and life habits is one of the best ways to stay safe. For example, almost all shark bites that occur off Cape Cod are by white sharks, which are a large, primarily cold-water species that spend most of their time in isolation feeding on fishes. But they also aggregate near seal colonies that provide a reliable food source at certain times of the year.</p><p>Shark bites in the Carolinas are by warm-water species like bull sharks, tiger sharks and <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharhinus-limbatus/" target="_blank">blacktips</a> (<em>Carcharhinus limbatus</em>). Each species is associated with particular habitats and dietary preferences.</p><p>Blacktips, which we suspect are responsible for most relatively minor bites on humans in the southeastern United States, feed on schooling bait fishes like menhaden. In contrast, bull sharks are equally at home in fresh water and salt water, and are often found near estuaries. Their bites are more severe than those of blacktips, as they are larger, more powerful, bolder and more tenacious. Several fatalities have been ascribed to bull sharks.</p><p>Tiger sharks are also large, and are responsible for a significant fraction of fatalities, particularly off the coast of volcanic islands like Hawaii and Reunion. They are tropical animals that often venture into shallow water frequented by swimmers and surfers.</p>
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Humans Are Not Targets<p>Sharks do not "hunt" humans. Data from the International Shark Attack File compiled over the past 60 years show a tight association between shark bites and the number of people in the water. In other words, shark bites are a simple function of the probability of encountering a shark.</p><p>This underscores the fact that shark bites are almost always cases of mistaken identity. If sharks actively hunted people, there would be many more bites, since humans make very easy targets when they swim in sharks' natural habitats.</p><p>Local conditions can also affect the risk of an attack. Encounters are more likely when sharks venture closer to shore, into areas where people are swimming. They may do this because they are following bait fishes or seals upon which they prey.</p><p>This means we can use environmental variables such as temperature, tide or weather conditions to better predict movement of bait fish toward the shoreline, which in turn will predict the presence of sharks. Over the next few years, the Florida Program for Shark Research will work with colleagues at other universities to monitor onshore and offshore movements of tagged sharks and their association with environmental variables so that we can improve our understanding of what conditions bring sharks close to shore.</p>
More to Know<p>There still is much to learn about sharks, especially the 500 or so species that have never been implicated in a bite on humans. One example is the tiny <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/one-worlds-rarest-sharks-also-one-most-adorable-325280" target="_blank">deep sea pocket shark</a>, which has a strange pouch behind its pectoral fins.</p><p>Only two specimens of this type of shark have ever been caught – one off the coast of Chile 30 years ago, and another more recently in the Gulf of Mexico. We're not sure about the function of the pouch, but suspect it stores luminous fluid that is released to distract would-be predators – much as its close relative, the <a href="https://sharkdevocean.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/second-ever-pocket-shark-discovered-in-gulf-of-mexico/" target="_blank">tail light shark</a>, releases luminous fluid from a gland on its underside near its vent.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5783b39d0838d6e410344a852ed0dcc3"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UTO5debfmsg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Sharks range in form from the bizarre <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/mitsukurina-owstoni/" target="_blank">goblin shark</a> (<em>Mitsukurina owstoni</em>), most commonly encountered in Japan, to the gentle filter-feeding <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/rhincodon-typus/" target="_blank">whale shark</a> (<em>Rhincodon typus</em>). Although whale sharks are the largest fishes in the world, we have yet to locate their nursery grounds, which are likely teeming with thousands of <a href="https://www.earthtouchnews.com/oceans/sharks/baby-whale-shark-rescued-from-gillnet-in-india-video/" target="_blank">foot-long pups</a>. Some deepwater sharks are primarily known from submersibles, such as the giant <a href="https://twitter.com/gavinnaylor/status/1146144452681113601" target="_blank">sixgill shark</a>, which feeds mainly on carrion but probably also preys on other animals in the deep sea.</p><p>Sharks seem familiar to almost all of us, but we know precious little about them. Our current understanding of their biology barely scratches the surface. The little we do know suggests they are profoundly different from other vertebrate animals. They've had 400 million years of independent evolution to adapt to their environments, and it's reasonable to expect they may be hiding more than a few tricks up their gills.</p>
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By Jenny Morber
Caribbean corals sprout off Texas. Pacific salmon tour the Canadian Arctic. Peruvian lowland birds nest at higher elevations.
Known and anticipated changes in species distribution due to climate change around the world have implications for culture, society ecosystems, governance and climate change. Figure used with permission from Gretta T. Pecl, originally published on 31 Mar 2017 in Science 355(6332).<p>How we define species is critical, because these definitions influence perceptions, policy and management. The U.S. National Invasive Species Council (NISC) defines a biological invasion as "the process by which non-native species breach biogeographical barriers and extend their range" and states that "preventing the introduction of potentially harmful organisms is … the first line of defense." But some say excluding newcomers is myopic.</p><p>"If you were trying to maintain the status quo, so every time a new species comes in, you chuck it out," says Camille Parmesan, director of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, you could gradually "lose so many that that ecosystem will lose its coherence." If climate change is driving native species extinct, she says, "you need to allow new ones coming in to take over those same functions."</p><p>As University of Florida conservation ecologist Brett Scheffers and Pecl warned in a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-019-0526-5" target="_blank">2019 paper in <em>Nature Climate Change</em></a>, "past management of redistributed species … has yielded mixed actions and results." They concluded that "we cannot leave the fate of biodiversity critical to human survival to be randomly persecuted, protected or ignored."</p>
Existing Tools<p>One approach to managing these climate-driven habitat shifts, suggested by University of California, Irvine marine ecologist Piper Wallingford and colleagues in <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0768-2" target="_blank">a recent issue of Nature Climate Change</a>, is for scientists to adapt existing tools like the <a href="https://www.iucn.org/theme/species/our-work/invasive-species/eicat" target="_blank">Environmental Impact Classification of Alien Taxa (EICAT)</a> to assess potential risks associated with moving species. Because range-shifting species pose impacts to communities similar to those of species introduced by humans, the authors argue, new management strategies are unnecessary, and each new arrival can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.</p><p>Karen Lips, a professor of biology at University of Maryland who was not associated with the study, echoes the idea that each case is so varied and nuanced that trying to fit climate shifting species into a single category with broad management goals may be impractical. "Things may be fine today, but add a new mosquito vector or add a new tick or a new disease, and all of a sudden things spiral out of control," she says. "The nuance means that the answer to any particular problem might be pretty different."</p>
In recent years, northern flying squirrels in Canada have found themselves in the company of new neighbors — southern flying squirrels expanding their range as the climate warms. Public Domain / USFW<p>Laura Meyerson, a professor in the Department of Natural Resources Science at the University of Rhode Island says scientists should use existing tools to identify and address invasive species to deal with climate-shifting species. "I would like to operate under the precautionary principle and then reevaluate as things shift. You're sort of shifting one piece in this machinery; as you insert a new species into a system, everything is going to respond," she says. "Will some of the species that are expanding their ranges because of climate change become problematic? Perhaps they might."</p><p>The reality is that some climate-shifting species may be harmful to some conservation or economic goals while being helpful to others. While sport fisherman are excited about red snapper moving down the East Coast of Australia, for example, if they eat juvenile lobsters in Tasmania they could harm this environmentally and economically important crustacean. "At the end of the day … you're going to have to look at whether that range expansion has some sort of impact and presumably be more concerned about the negative impacts," says NISC executive director Stas Burgiel. "Many of the [risk assessment] tools we have are set up to look at negative impact." As a result, positive effects may be deemphasized or overlooked. "So that notion of cost versus benefit … I don't think it has played out in this particular context."</p>
Location, Location, Location<p>In a <a href="https://www-nature-com.ezp3.lib.umn.edu/articles/s41558-020-0770-8" target="_blank">companion paper</a> to Wallingford's, University of Connecticut ecology and evolutionary biology associate professor Mark Urban stressed key differences between invasive species, which are both non-native and harmful, and what he calls "climate tracking species." Whereas invasive species originate from places very unlike the communities they overtake, he says, climate tracking species expand from largely similar environments, seeking to follow preferred conditions as these environments move. For example, an American pika may relocate to a higher mountain elevation, or a marbled salamander might expand its New England range northward to seek cooler temperatures, but these new locations are not drastically different than the places they had called home before.</p><p>Climate tracking species may move faster than their competitors at first, Urban says, but competing species will likely catch up. "Applying perspectives from invasion biology to climate-tracking species … arbitrarily chooses local winners over colonizing losers," he writes.</p>
The marbled salamander, a native of the eastern U.S., is among species whose range could expand northward to accommodate rising temperatures. Seánín Óg / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>Urban stresses that if people prevent range shifts, some climate-tracking species may have nowhere to go. He suggests that humans should even <a href="https://ensia.com/features/time-for-trees-to-pack-their-trunks/" target="_blank">facilitate movement</a> as the planet warms. "The goal in this crazy warming world is to keep everything alive. But it may not be in the same place," Urban says.</p><p>Parmesan echoes Urban, emphasizing it's the distance that makes the difference. "[Invasives] come from a different continent or a different ocean. You're having these enormous trans-global movements and that's what ends up causing the species that's exotic to be invasive," she says. "Things moving around with climate change is a few hundred miles. Invasive species are moving a few thousand miles."</p><p>In 2019 University of Vienna conservation biology associate professor Franz Essl published a similar argument for species classification beyond the native/non-native dichotomy. Essl uses "neonatives" to refer to species that have expanded outside their native areas and established populations because of climate change but not direct human agency. He argues that these species should be considered as native in their new range.</p>
They Never Come Alone<p>Meyerson calls for caution. "I don't think we should be introducing species" into ecosystems, she says. "I mean, they never come alone. They bring all their friends, their microflora, and maybe parasites and things clinging to their roots or their leaves. … It's like bringing some mattress off the street into your house."</p><p>Burgiel warns that labeling can have unintended consequences. We in the invasive species field … focus on non-native species that cause harm," he says. "Some people think that anything that's not native is invasive, which isn't necessarily the case." Because resources are limited and land management and conservation are publicly funded, Burgiel says, it is critical that the public understands how the decisions are being made.</p><p>Piero Genovesi, chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Invasive Species Specialist Group, sees the debate about classification — and therefore about management — as a potential distraction from more pressing conservation issues.</p><p>"The real bulk of conservation is that we want to focus on the narrow proportion of alien species that are really harmful," he says. In Hawaii "we don't discuss species that are there [but aren't] causing any problem because we don't even have the energy for dealing with them all. And I can tell you, no one wants to remove [non-native] cypresses from Tuscany. So, I think that some of the discussions are probably not so real in the work that we do in conservation."</p><p>Indigenous frameworks offer another way to look at species searching for a new home in the face of climate change. According to <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11625-018-0571-4" target="_blank">a study</a> published in Sustainability Science in 2018 by Dartmouth Native American studies and environmental studies associate professor Nicholas Reo, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and Dartmouth anthropology associate professor Laura Ogden, some Anishnaabe people view plants as persons and the arrival of new plants as a natural form of migration, which is not inherently good or bad. They may seek to discover the purpose of new species, at times with animals as their teachers. In their paper Reo and Ogden quote Anishnaabe tribal chairman Aaron Payment as saying, "We are an extension of our natural environment; we're not separate from it."</p>
The Need for Collaboration<p>The successful conservation of Earth's species in a way that keeps biodiversity functional and healthy will likely depend on collaboration. Without global agreements, one can envision scenarios in which countries try to impede high-value species from moving beyond their borders, or newly arriving species are quickly overharvested.</p><p>In Nature Climate Change, Sheffers and Pecl call for a Climate Change Redistribution Treaty that would recognize species redistribution beyond political boundaries and establish governance to deal with it. Treaties already in place, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which regulates trade in wild plants and animals; the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; and the Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora, can help guide these new agreements.</p><p>"We are living through the greatest redistribution of life on Earth for … potentially hundreds of thousands of years, so we definitely need to think about how we want to manage that," Pecl says.</p><p>Genovesi agrees that conservationists need a vision for the future. "What we do is more to be reactive [to known threats]. … It's so simple to say that destroying the Amazon is probably not a good idea that you don't need to think of a step ahead of that." But, he adds, "I don't think we have a real answer in terms of okay, this is a threshold of species, or this is the temporal line where we should aim to." Defining a vision for what success would look like, Genovesi says, "is a question that hasn't been addressed enough by science and by decision makers."</p><p>At the heart of these questions are values. "All of these perceptions around what's good and what's bad, all [are based on] some kind of value system," Pecl says. "As a whole society, we haven't talked about what we value and who gets to say what's of value and what isn't."</p><p>This is especially important when it comes to marginalized voices, and Pecl says she is concerned because she doesn't "think we have enough consideration or representation of Indigenous worldviews." Reo and colleagues <a href="https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/sites.dartmouth.edu/dist/9/52/files/2012/10/Reo_etal_AIQ_invasive_species_2017.pdf" target="_blank">wrote in American Indian Quarterly in 2017</a> that climate change literature and media coverage tend to portray native people as vulnerable and without agency. Yet, says Pecl, "The regions of the world where [biodiversity and ecosystems] are either not declining or are declining at a much slower rate are Indigenous controlled" — suggesting that Indigenous people have potentially managed species more effectively in the past, and may be able to manage changing species distributions in a way that could be informative to others working on these issues.</p><p>Meanwhile, researchers such as Lips see species classification as native or other as stemming from a perspective that there is a better environmental time and place to return to. "There is no pristine, there's no way to go back," says Lips. "The entire world is always very dynamic and changing. And I think it's a better idea to consider just simply what is it that we do want, and let's work on that."</p>
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