Friday, May 16, 2008

Why the biodiversity in your backyard matters-

We have a perfect example today- hopefully comprehensible even to the Mortimer Snerds who profess not to care what happens to the other species on the planet of why low biodiversity will bite YOU on the butt.

This is actually closely tied to my recent post on why our farm is "beyond organic" - which is tied, of course, to the status of our water table...  gosh, it all seems to be connected.  Hm.

There's an "unknown species" of ant invading Texas.  By the billions.  Expanding.  Tiny.

A few quotes from the article:

"...the little invaders (are) now seemingly everywhere: on the move underfoot; infesting woodlands, yards and gardens; nesting in electrical boxes and causing shorts.."

"a previously unknown variety with a staggering propensity to reproduce and no known enemies. The species, which bites but does not sting, was first identified here in 2002 "

"Variants of the species found in Colombia have been known to asphyxiate chickens and even attack cattle by swarming over their eyes, nasal passages and hooves"

" 'It’s a very fecund species, with multiple queens,' Mr. Meyers said.

"The ants often eat fire ants, with which they are sometimes compared, and they “outcompete” fire ants for the food supply and reproduce far faster..."

Ok.  This is exactly what we can expect to happen- over and over- in a world where the ecosystems have been simplified down to next to nothing.

The Texas suburbs, where these critters are currently exploding, have generally had their lawns nuked with pesticides; the full spectrum of insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides.  Instead of the wild situation where there are 10 species of grass, 100 species of insects, 10,000 species of parasites - there are 3 species of grass- dandelions - and some fire ants, and not much else.

Invading species trying to move into an ancient ecosystem have to face viruses, bacteria, predators, parasites... and on nearly forever.  The chances are really NOT on the side of the invader; something will be able to eat the newcomers, 999 times out of 1,000.  Because there are a MILLION potential antagonists.  Quite literally.

But-  in a biologically simplified system, the potential for explosive outbreaks is hugely higher.

And really, really expensive.

"Some might think the infestation an exterminator’s dream, but it is not so, said Mr. Rasberry. While an ordinary treatment might cost $85 every three months, treating for the rasberry ants costs up to $600, he said. Yet the efforts are so arduous and ineffective and have left customers so dissatisfied 'they are actually costing me money,' Mr. Rasberry said."

So, the next time you're talking with a Snerd who just doesn't get it- you can cite this one for them.  And ask if they'd really like to have a house FULL of tiny ants- that they can't get rid of.  

Or bees.  Or moths.  Or whatever else is next on the list.  A plague of frogs might be nice.


Beelar said...

Yeah, a plague of frogs WOULD be nice. The amphibians are having a rather tough time of it these days.

Anonymous said...

As long as they aren't from South America, I'll go for the frogs... I hear they can be tasty! (Altho' truth to tell, we have frogs here and I leave them alone -- they help to keep the bug population down.)

Seriously, thanks for the post. I've linked to it on my LJ today.

Heather G

Greenpa said...

Heather G- even the tiny frogs can be tasty! One of the tricks my Chinese hosts pulled on me- besides the cold hard-boiled quail eggs (chopsticks only, of course) was a platter of what amounted to crispy Spring Peepers. Tiny frogs. Actually just the hind legs and backbones. And you have to manage this without fingers, just the chopsticks, and in case you're not familiar with formal banquet etiquette, you are NOT allowed to touch your own chopsticks with your lips; just the food.

I wonder how ant jam would taste... that seems to be the best way to wipe out species...

Crunchy Chicken said...

Oooh frogs. Yum! With a little spicy fire ant BBQ sauce, I see some serious protein in my future.

Anonymous said...

Hm, I can see the ant jam... put sugar out for bait, attract a bunch of ants, and throw the lot into a pot.

Anonymous said...

A serious note, and a nay say here. Often, in a completely "organic" location a pest {or as we say in Spanish a plaga} from afar will invade. In 1996 the pink hibiscus mealybug did that. No relief until the USDA introduced a predator wasp in late 1998. I lost about $20,000 in my nursery during that one.
Now, a thrip of no known origin is killing a large variety of trees here and because the USDA has no money and no employees, we feel doomed. No, I don't use poisons, plagues are too overwhelming for that anyway. But we very badly need a predator.
I do not agree that just having a poison free, predator friendly atmosphere makes all things wonderful. If there is no predator, there is no relief. Please also refer to the current nightmare in Florida related to the invasion of Central American bromeliad beetles.
Same situation.
May I also point out the fact that ticks are out of control and no amount of bein' natchral is helping.
I'm for live and let live, I'm for organic, I NEVER poison, but really, it is not the truth to claim that not messin' with nature works when world trade has invited in every possible plague we can imagine and quite a few we can't yet, until the day we find them creeping up our legs.
I'm on the front lines, Greenpa. I love 99% of your message. This part needs a little examination.
All I can say is that the folks should feel lucky that the Argentinian Fire Ant {black, 3/8 inch long, bites very aggressively and leaves at all bites a pustule of 1/8 inch} isn't in their yard.
It's in mine.

kai said...

I'm a big fan of biodiversity (duh - I read your blog, right?). Anyway - one thing to keep in mind is that when a foreign species does move into any environment - diverse or not - it's going to take at least a little while for the things in that host environment to catch up and say "hey - I can eat those buggers". But you are right: while the invaders have no defenses against "our" predators, our prey also have no defense against them, while at the same time our predators also don't realize they are prey.

Of course, this is a generalized statement. On some level, an ant is an ant is an ant. But I do worry that some of our natural predators have learned that fire ants cause pain, and so tend to leave most ants alone. Who knows... and thats the problem - no one really does.

Anonymous said...

About ant jam. If the ant likes sweets, in a deep bottle, place some honey in the very bottom, about a half inch. Place in the ground near the nest with the mouth up an inch from the ground, bottle should nave a small neck, even tiny to keep the other insects out. The mass of workers will all end up in there, smothered.
I guess since those ants in the story like electronics, plug in an old motherboard and put it in a glue trap package.
Buy an anteater. Or a guinea hen.