Tao Orion

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since Apr 09, 2016
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Recent posts by Tao Orion

Hi Ty,
You should consider finding some Ailanthus silk moths - I've seen them here in Oregon, and they were originally imported to eat Ailanthus leaves to make silk. APparently the cloth is a cross between silk and hemp, very strong and durable, and many in the late 19th/early 20th century thought it would replace cotton - that's why the trees were planted in many areas.
4 years ago
Cheatgrass is such an interesting example of the tendency to 'blame the messenger,' in this case invasive species, when an ecosystem is transformed by other forces. The Great Basin was historically managed by fire to produce a wide diversity of perennial foods, including stands of perennial bunchgrasses that fed sizeable populations of deer, antelope, elk, buffalo, and the people and other predators who ate them and managed their populations. Sagebrush was present, but not prevalent, as its not incredibly edible. Removing the indigenous people of the area by force or by disease completely changed the ecosystem dynamics of the area. Incipient with this decline in historic ecosystem management came other changes - namely the unmanaged grazing of domesticated livestock like sheep and cows, and the eventual near-extermination of all the predators that may have eaten them. The proliferation of cheatgrass today follows this sad history of poor land management decisions in this brittle landscape, and to me its no surprise that a plant like this grows in the area laid waste by conventional ranching practices. We need to seriously examine the nature of public and private lands grazing in the intermountain western US, because the way it has been practiced for the last 150 years or so is driving the landscape towards desertification. Spraying cheatgrass with herbicide is never going to change these dynamics, as its a short-sighted approach causing more ecological harm while not addressing the "root" of the intersecting economic, political, social, and ecological issues at hand.
4 years ago
That stand of bush honeysuckle looks amazing, and also would make great forage for goats! They would take even the thickest patch down over the course of a couple years, and you could then use pigs to root it out if needed. As an animal steward myself, when I see plants growing like that (and I also have a desire to move them along), I consider 'using biological resources' first - turn them into milk, meat, manure, wool, etc.
4 years ago
Hi Sam,
That seems like an interesting idea. It will probably shade the knotweed eventually. Do you know what species of bamboo it is or whether its a clumper or a runner? Since you mentioned you live on a farm, is there a chance that you might be able to run pigs in the area? It would probably take a few seasons of letting them forage and dig up the regrowing stems, but I think they could be a useful tool in setting it back. I would probably suggest going that route first, as you'll probably have to continually cut the knotweed back to get other plantings established.
So glad you liked the book! Its great to be part of such interesting conversations.
4 years ago
Hi Lonnie,
I think it would be interesting to lead them in an exploration of why the species you're working with might be where they are - what happened in the area(s) you're working in over the last 5, 10, 50, or 100 years? Perhaps they could take some time to observe all of their parts - roots, vegetation, flowers, and seeds, and think about what other creatures/processes are making use of their characteristics. It would be interesting to research whether the species you're working with are edible or medicinal, and have potential market values for any of their parts. Then, make a plan to figure out how you/they can work to change the niche that the species are filling (by improving soil organic matter, providing more shade, etc.) to make sure that the area isn't reinvaded. It would be great to figure out ways to entice their continued interaction with the spaces, so they have some sort of stewardship responsibility/accountability for the areas where they are working.
I'd love to hear what species you're working with to give more specific ideas! I recently met Rella Abernathy at a Beyond Pesticides conference...she works as the City of Boulder's IPM manager, and may be interested in helping put something together along these lines.
4 years ago
I've had success rooting out Himalayan blackberry with pigs, could you try a pig moat around that edge for a couple seasons?
4 years ago
You know, I haven't read Pearce's book yet, but I plan to one of these days. My understanding of his thesis is that his subtitle basically says it all - invasive species will be nature's salvation. I see things a bit differently, and take more of an applied ecology view on the matter. I do quite a bit of invasive species management myself, and I also do quite a bit of native species management...and I think this is one of the primary differences between my perspective and Pearce's. I'm an organic farmer by trade, so I deal with weeds all the time. Many of the 'worst' invasive species in my area are present on my property, and I'm involved with managing them on a long term basis. I've seen their populations decline as a result of this protracted management that has also served to build soil organic matter and replace the ecological functions that a single highly productive plant was serving with many similar plants (replacing Himalayan blackberry with raspberry, gooseberry, elderberry, and currant - lots of nectar, fruit, and habitat and quite a bit easier to manage in the long term).
While I believe that invasive species offer important insights into how an ecosystem is transforming, and my understanding of these transformations is influenced by acknowledging the extensive influence that people have had in shaping plant and animal communities. Nancy Turner at the University of Victoria in BC has done amazing work cataloguing the role of indigenous people in creating the biodiverse ecosystems that are now filled with what are considered native plants. And there's evidence these ecosystem-shaping effects from throughout North, Central, and South America, Australia, SE Asia, and Africa - everywhere that indigenous people have been classified 'hunter-gatherers.' There's a lot of interesting discussions to be had in this regard, but when it comes to invasive species, much of what we're seeing today is a direct result of the collapse of these management systems and a change in mindset about the nature of 'nature.' Many of the people who work with Dr. Turner and Dr. Kat Anderson in California believe that a lack of relationship and stewardship with the world that surrounds our immediate homes is leading to declines in biodiversity - the world is retreating from us because of our lack of attention. I think this perspective is extremely important to consider, because it reframes the focus on invasive species to a larger perspective of how we are relating to our home landscapes. How are we contributing to the proliferation of the native species that we ostensibly care so deeply about?
On my homestead, I've been tending my patches of camas, mariposa lily, fawn lily, tarweed, brodiaea, and 'wild' strawberry with the same attention that I lavish in my garden of (non-native) crop plants. I dig them, eat them, save seed from them, and spread the around in places I think they'll grow. I cut out and selectively graze blackberries from their midst. I also cut out douglas fir to give them light. I believe that if we started to conceive of our immediate environs as resources for our daily needs and see how our day to day lives affect the quality and availability of these resources, many things would start to shift socially, ecologically, and economically. Many interesting conversations to be had in this regard as well, but for me, this is a key piece of deciding how and when to manage invasive species - looking not just toward their eradication, but crafting clear goals and management plans for supporting what remains when and if they are moved along to their next iteration as compost, mulch, or manure.
4 years ago
As other commenters have mentioned, there are many invasive species with exceptional nutritional value, either for us, or for birds, insects and other mammals - which are also part of the story of how they spread (pollination, seed dispersal, etc.) Some that stand out for their particular nutritional qualities are Autumn olive (Eleaganus angustifolia), one of the richest known sources of lycopene (the antioxidant found in tomatoes), Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), whose root contains high concentrations of reservatrol - the antioxidant component of red wine used to treat heart disease, milk thistle and other thistles are highly regarded in the herbal medicine community for their liver cleansing and tonifying abilities, and all parts are edible. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petioloata) is another nutritious invasive member of the Brassica family (with those cancer-fighting sulphur-based compounds also found in kale, etc.) Multiflora rose and sea buckthorn were introduced for their food value for wildlife (and we can eat them too - both have fruits that are very nutritious to people). Kudzu is edible and medicinal - all parts (the roots is used to make arrowroot powder to thicken soups and stews). One of the lines of research I have undertaken is to look into how the invasive plants are used in traditional food and medicine making in their recent places of origin, as this gives a lot of insight into how they can and should be used where they're currently proliferating!
4 years ago
My take on the matter is that you have to have a clear goal for what you want in the space that is currently inhabited by invasive species. Its also great that you have been noticing that those areas covered with invasive species are also those rich in wildlife - this important observation should also guide your decision-making about your goals for the site over the short, medium, and long-term. The 'moonscape' approach so common in conventional restoration is not necessarily looking at potential ecosystem functions of invasive species, which although they may not be ideal, are certainly not negligible in most cases. These functional values need to be considered as intrinsic to the site development plan as you move from an area covered with invasive species 'X' to something more desirable. It sounds like your site is steep - was it excavated, or is it a roadcut? Would you be able to graze goats on it? If you can think of a way to use biological resources like small grazers to do the initial land clearing, you'll be enriching the soil (which blackberries and vinca are also doing in their own special ways=) ), and helping with the process of moving succession along. Sheet mulching is also an option that I've had success with (with vinca), and I've had great success using pigs to root out blackberry roots (they love them!) So, to use that old Permaculture saying "it depends"...on your site conditions, land use history, and goals. If you desire the area to be covered with native forbs and grasses, then the management plan would be different from if the area is going to be a walnut orchard. I'd love to help you continue to strategize about it though, so if you have more information about the site you'd like to share, let me know!
4 years ago

plants, animals and soil microbiota have evolved as communities, not as isolated species...
Species that are not native, and again this is basic ecology, lack the connections with the other species in the habitat that evolved as part of similar communities...
Ascension Island, then, was an exception, not a rule...
There is another important question about how we define a native species as species move as a result of climate disruption...

I want to take some time to respond to the concepts you've put forward here, as I believe they're central to developing a more holistic understanding of both invasive and native species. First, the idea that ecological communities are 'intact' entities that are destined to be together forever is one that has largely been disproven and abandoned within the framework of general ecology, though invasion ecology still clings to this antiquated idea. Consider the debate between Clements and Gleason I described in my book - Clements the 'father' of succession put forward the idea that ecosystems are tightly bound networks of interactions headed toward some predictable climax state, Gleason found that they are mixtures of species that forged relationships based on available resources and conditions, and that the end state of any ecosystem is unknown. CS Holling (perhaps one of the most visionary ecologists of recent times) brought this idea even further to explain how ecosystems behave in terms of systems theory as they progress through what he called the Adaptive Cycle - constantly changing in response to selection pressures, but in a pattern of increasingly complexity, networking, and information and resource exchange until all of the energy coming into the system is utilized by fewer, larger organisms. Eventually these late-successional systems are prone to disturbance, and the process begins again, though there's no telling who the characters will be that make use of post-disturbance conditions - most likely those best adapted to the current conditions. The pattern of the Adaptive Cycle can be seen throughout systems everywhere (and fyi, this is what is meant by 'goal-seeking' in systems theory in my book - different from Gaia Theory - systems tend toward higher degrees of complexity over time). If you believe the likes of Holling, Meadows, and Margulis (and I do), then there is no reason to believe that Ascension Island is an exception, but instead an opportunity to observe on a small scale how some of the finer features of natural selection in the context of the Adaptive Cycle work, even on a short time-frame.
There's no doubt that for a certain period following the last ice age, some species had time to develop associations with other species, and there are unique interactions based on isolation and time that are a result of the relatively stable climatic scenario of the last 10,000 years. However, climate change is happening, the process of which has both made possible and been exacerbated by the practice of agriculture, deforestation, and colonization, which have been underway for millennia. The ecological and cultural shifts associated with these practices are not without ramifications for plant and animal communities as we all know, and its impossible to separate out the intensification of activities related to human livelihood provision from shifts in surrounding ecologies. If we accept that ecosystems (like all systems) are constantly in flux and adapting to changes in local and global conditions, then we should be able to anticipate changes in their structure and composition. If we want to preserve and enhance the biodiversity that we've come to know and love, we have to develop management systems that facilitate the resilience of these systems. Holling also offers some great advice on how to manage complexity in constantly evolving systems. We have to move beyond the idea that ecosystems are static, and begin the long process of learning how and when to intervene to promote regenerative qualities and maximum diversity.
4 years ago