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Alien Invasion: America’s Battle with Non-Native Animals and Plants

by Robert Devine. National Geographic Society. 280 p. 1998. $15.95 soft cover.

This useful volume is not about attacks from Mars or illegal immigrants, but instead explores the negative effects of introduced, non-human species in America. As such, it is a welcome addition to a subject that has been largely ignored.
Rather scattered, the chapters skip from animals to plants to animals, and then change wavelength to emphasize a region rather than a taxon. Devine is to be forgiven, however, considering the complexity of the issues and the breadth of this very ambitious work. Readers will learn that introduced species are now recognized as the second major factor, after habitat loss, fueling the extinction crisis; bioinvasions have become a form of global change.

Devine tackles some of emerging conflicts of interest. For instance, animal welfare groups were for years upset over how The Nature Conservancy and National Park Service were killing feral pigs in sensitive habitats in Hawaii. Then there are those fighting the use of any herbicides, even for conservation purposes. Compassion for life and concern over pollution have merit, yet these need to be balanced with other conservation concerns and realities. Devine does this deftly.
Little was said about forest pests and pathogens, perhaps the most catastrophic of introduced species (next to human epidemics, but I am biased). Also missing was any useful examination of human population growth or any challenge to the modern mantra of globalization.

An especially big disappointment was that Alien Invaders has no references, bibliography, pictures, illustrations or graphs. All this missing from a book published by National Geographic? The consolation is that Devine actually includes a strong vein of advocacy--another big surprise considering the publisher--and makes several useful suggestions how we as individuals and a nation can better protect our remaining natural heritage from being further homogenized.

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