Nature Cannot Be Hurried

Mankind has still not learned the great lesson: Nature can not be hurried. Change happens slowly, over millenium, punctuated by great catastrophes, which become starting points for new change, slowly. Just because mankind has gotten used to saying “We want it all and we want it now!” doesn’t mean it can be gotten.

In 1985, Australian scientists kicked off an ambitious plan: to kill off non-native cats that had been prowling the island’s slopes since the early 19th century. The program began out of apparent necessity — the cats were preying on native burrowing birds. Twenty-four years later, a team of scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division and the University of Tasmania reports that the cat removal unexpectedly wreaked havoc on the island ecosystem.

With the cats gone, the island’s rabbits (also non-native) began to breed out of control, ravaging native plants and sending ripple effects throughout the ecosystem. The findings were published in the Journal of Applied Ecology online in January.

“Our findings show that it’s important for scientists to study the whole ecosystem before doing eradication programs,” said Arko Lucieer, a University of Tasmania remote-sensing expert and a co-author of the paper. “There haven’t been a lot of programs that take the entire system into account. You need to go into scenario mode: ‘If we kill this animal, what other consequences are there going to be?’ ”

Look Before You Leap

I hope the scientists who dreamed up the cat eradication program didn’t leave, to come back in 24 years, as the article implies. How could they “suddenly” find out the rabbits had over run the island? How could plant material disappear in a year or two without notice?

macqueries

It would sure seem to me any attempt to get an eco-zone back to some previous state would begin with a thorough inventory of all (at least major) species, with known connections between them. Seeing cats – burrowing birds – rabbits – leafy greens together would at least prompt a few questions, no? Or, knowing both cats and rabbits were non-native one would ask what the removal of one would do to the other? The cats being gone, or greatly diminished, what would keep the rabbits in check? Too much of this “well, it seemed like a good idea at the time,” response, as though scientists were not much more thoughtful than drunken Frat boys jumping from second floor windows into “soft” bushes…