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Invasive Exotic Species in the Sonoran Region

Invasive Exotic Species in the Sonoran Region
Barbara Tellman (editor)
University of Arizona Press and the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum
Publication Date: 

cloth, 424 p., $75

Few subjects have generated as much emotion as that of invasive species. I use the word emotion advisedly, after having read too many articles on the subject by authors with scientific degrees whose publications were painfully lacking in hard data, or whose data was glossed over, or whose data was selected or extrapolated to extraordinary lengths. The "take-home" message from these other publications on invasive species is that the authors believed wholeheartedly in the rightness of their beliefs.

Scientifically valid data speaks for itself; it can be replicated; and it does not require manipulation of data sets, extrapolation to somewhat unbelievable worst-case scenarios or extravagant statistical analysis to make a point. In short, my search for solid information on this subject has often been frustrating.

Given that background, I approached the request to review this book with trepidation.

What won me over to this book was the organization into chapters representing the presentations of a number of scientists researching different aspects of invasive organisms within the Sonoran Desert. I found "hard data" collected by field scientists working directly in the environment representing a wide diversity of organisms, plants, mammals, fish, birds, insects, amphibians, etc.

I also found a wealth of information about the history of the Sonoran Desert that helped to place the idea of an invasive species into a greater context. After all, our lifetimes are but a blink of the eye in the evolution of species, their distributions and their movements around the globe. This publication helped me to place this current data into a long-term context.

Roughly one-third of the Sonoran Desert is in the United States; the rest lies within Mexico. The research of several authors led me to believe there is a need for a multinational agreement on the approach to managing publicly held lands. One nation's rescued species can easily cross a border and become an invasive species elsewhere.

The information on management practices runs the gamut of possible solutions. The "hands-on" approaches presented by some authors show promising results. We need more experiments to identify appropriate solutions like those investigated by several authors.

The issue of managing (weeding) the environment for a specific selection of biological organisms begs the question of not only national rights but also landowners' rights. While vast stretches of the West and particularly the Sonoran Desert are held by federal and state governments, does management of these areas give government officials the right to mandate what private landowners can and cannot do on their private property that abuts these reserves in the United States and Mexico?

A few of the authors reported data and then extrapolated it to worst-case scenarios. In these cases, the authors told the audience what they were doing. Some of the authors cited information published by others that is based on estimations or questionable computer projections without identifying them as such. Some authors could not resist promoting a particular political agenda.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in a broad-spectrum look at the issue of invasive species within a specific environmental context — the Sonoran Desert. The issues are complex and deserve further research and a commitment to solutions that are devoid of negative long-term consequences. After all, a number of the invasive species in the Sonoran Desert were introduced specifically to meet short-term goals without consideration of long-term consequences. I trust these researchers collectively can break that cycle.

— Boyce Tankersley, Manager of Living Plant Documentation and Member of the Invasive Species Committee, Chicago Botanic Garden