Filed Under (SW7) by Shane Stone on 11-10-2010

BMH Larson’s “The war of the roses: demilitarizing invasive biology” is a paper addressing how invasive species are portrayed to society. Those who research the species understand the effects that the species have on an ecosystem. However, to explain these scientific aspects to the general public would be inefficient because it would not capture their attention and interest. Therefore, Larson explains that militaristic metaphors are used to get the reader’s attention. He continues that these methods, although effective, are not in the long-term going to be useful. An example of this is seen on the National Geographic series “Strange Days on the Planet Earth- Invaders.” The Narrator, Edward Norton, says the invasive species are an “Alien species…think of them as the first wave of an assault that could drive the greatest extinction since the end of the dinosaurs” (Norton 2005).  This metaphor is extremely effective, and gets the point across. Larson acknowledge this, but as mentioned he understands that this is a hyperbole and in the long run may be an inadequate description. Larson’s paper actually reminds of an anti-war paper. If most papers are thought as pro-war propaganda then Larson’s work is like a pacifist trying to provide an alternative point of view.

Although I understand Larson’s point of view on the metaphors and understand the negative effects they may potentially have, I believe that their use must be continued. Larson explains alternative metaphors that can potentially be used, but none have the same impact. The idea of describing the invasive species as a disease would probably be just as effective, but as Larson suggests it would still become militaristic. For example, the “Fight against Cancer” is still militaristic. It is unfortunate, but in today’s media the best way to make people care about something, there needs to be conflict where a side can be taken. By providing a side, viewers and readers and create an emotional tie with a side and leads to involvement. Until a more efficient metaphor or strategy can be found to get the public involved can be found, I support the continued use of the militaristic metaphors.

National Geographic’s Strange Days on Planet Earth. Dir. Mark Shelley (Ii). Perf. Edward Norton. National Geographic Video, 2005. DVD.

Larson, BMH 2005. The war of the roses: demilitarizing invasive biology, Frontiers in Ecology  and the environment 3: 495-500.

Filed Under (SW3) by Shane Stone on 11-09-2010

Wilson et al. and Williams et al. both published papers regarding the Water Hyacinth in Lake Victoria. The weevils were introduced in 1995, but no change was noticed until 2000. This was expected because previous research showed that the weevil takes 3-5 years to take effect. Both parties agreed that the levels had decreased significantly, but the debate is over why it happened and why there was a slight resurgence of it. Wilson et al. believes that the Neochetina are the main cause for the decrease, and that El Niño expedited the process. Williams et al. is convinced that without El Niño the change witnessed would not have occurred. The key to this argument, what affect did El Niño have?

Wilson et al. claims the weevil had the most influential .They explain how the Weevils cause damage to the plant structure causing the plants to sink. El Niño moved the plants beneath the water and this was a main cause of the resurgence. With the mats broken, the seeds beneath the water were now exposed to light and could take root (Wilson et al. 2007). Also, with the plants beneath the water, the weevils drowned and the population dipped. In addition, some areas (Winam Gulf) reported resurgences while others (Tanzania) did not. Tanzanian areas of the lake are open so El Niño waves and currents moved the uprooted plants. Winam Gulf is not as open and is not as affected by the currents (Wilson et al. 2007).

Williams et al. 2007 was written solely to repudiate arguments of Wilson et al. and to reassert that El Niño had the more significant affect on the Water Hyacinth population. They explain how El Niño reduced light in Lake Victoria (Williams et al. 2007). In addition, Wilson et al.’s point on Winam Gulf was shown to be wrong when satellite images show how the Water Hyacinth resurgence was cause by “agricultural run-off and nutrient-rich sediment” (NASA Earth Observatory 2007).

Initially, I though Wilson et al. was correct, but then after I reread Williams et al. I realized they were right. For each flaw Wilson et al. provided, a counter was given that discredited them. However, I think biocontrol should be utilized. Prior to reading, I viewed “Strange Days on Planet Earth” and the success that seemed to be caused by the weevils excites me for the future. Biocontrol could be a natural, efficient solution. Either way, the work done by the weevils cannot be denied, and El Niño definitely helped. Both sides provide valid, but which side is correct may never be affirmed.


NASA Earth Observatory. 2007. Water Hyacinth Re-invades Lake Victoria. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=7426. Viewed 11 Sept   2010.

Williams, A.E., R.E Hecky, and H.C. Duthie. 2007. Water hyacinth decline across Lake Victoria-Was it caused by climatic perturbation or biological control? A reply. Aquatic Botany 87:94-96.

Wilson, J.R.U., O. Ajuonu, T.D. Center, M.P. Hill, M.H. Julien, F.F. Katagira, P. Neuenschwander, S.W. Njoka, J. Ogwang, R.H. Reeder, and T. Van. 2007. The decline of water hyacinth on Lake Victoria was due to biological control by neochetina spp. Aquatic Botany 87: 90-93.

Filed Under (SW2) by Natalie Ferguson on 10-09-2010

Imagine this: it is a typical Thursday night and you find yourself trying to choose a movie to occupy your time. You are in the mood for a film that could both thrill and provoke thought. Sound familiar? Before you settle on the most recent blockbuster, consider a less conventional cinematic experience, one that offers excitement, stimulation, and raw truth. Although a documentary on invasive species was hardly what you had in mind, “Strange Days on Planet Earth” gives an experience well worth the time.

People generally do not become involved in a problem unless they are directly effected by its outcome. The film examines several areas of the world where the havoc invasive species have wreaked on the environment has directly effected humans. In New Orleans, an invasion of a termite has led to the destruction of the historic homes in the French Quarter. In Guam, children are being attacked by the foreign Brown Tree Snakes. Out of all the examples given, most alarming was the situation in Lake Victoria, Uganda, with water hyacinth. A beautiful and harmless looking plant has directly lead to countless crocodile bites and diseases inflicted on locals. The species had completely canopied the lake, clogging fishing lines and creating stagnant pools. Without the flow of water, diseases such as malaria, have begun to spread more quickly. They have also created waters ideal for crocodiles. As the crocodile population sky rockets, the fish population stays the same. With the lack of food, the crocodiles seek human flesh to satisfy their palate. By bringing light to how invasive species directly effect humanity, the movie uncovers a moral underside the issue. Many scientists may argue that the death of native species is in itself  a moral issue, and should have been more heavily focused on in the film. In reality, the percent of the population who are emotionally moved into action over a lost species of plant is very minimal. By focusing on how invasive species pose a threat to humans and not just native species, the film-makers inspire viewers into action; a feat that would otherwise be very difficult to accomplish.

Some may criticize the film for over-dramatizing the problem of invasive species in order to draw viewers. In many ways, this can be distracting to viewers seeking the model unimaginative documentary. However, for the rest of America, the exhilarating methods National Graphic employs are exactly what scientists in the field of preventing the spread of invasive species need. The hype caused by the film will cause a domino effect of awareness. People may find themselves checking their shoes for New Zealand mud snails or avoiding planting foreign species to avoid their spread. While the documentary offers enjoyment over merit, perhaps hype is exactly what is necessary for this issue. So next time you find yourself in the position of not knowing which movie to watch, “Strange Days on Planet Earth” should be the obvious choice: for entertainment that will also inspire action.

Filed Under (SW2) by Kyle Rand on 10-09-2010

An invasive species, identified as Miconia calvescens, has caused a widespread scare in Hawai’i over the past decade.  Recently added to the Hawai’i State Noxious Weed List, this plant has caused major destruction across thousands of acres of all of the Hawaiian islands.  Miconia are capable of growing to be around fifty feet tall, with enormous oval-shaped leaves that cast an overbearing shadow across the ground floor of Hawaiian tropical jungles.  They were introduced in 1961 as a house plant from South America, when they quickly dispersed from homely gardens to take over surrounding land.  Exchange of the plants between gardeners greatly facilitated the growth of the plant throughout all of the Hawaiian islands.

The threat that Miconia pose is one of habitat destruction.  They quickly grow into large shrubs or medium sized trees that take up a lot of area, and their leaves have gained the name “Purple Plague” and “Green Cancer” as a result of their coloring, a dark shade of green on top, and a purple shade on bottom.  The size of the leaves is what causes the most damage; they are so large that they shade the bottom of the tropics from the sun by forming an expansive canopy that blocks any light from entering the lower floors of the jungle, as well as funneling rain in hard streams that beats the soil and strips it of any nutrients.  The canopy of leaves deprives other species of the sunlight they need to perform the light-dependent stages of photosynthesis, and ultimately kill these native species of Hawai’i.

Greg Asner, an ecologist who works with the National Geographic team on eradicating this invasive species from the Hawaiian islands, has ingeniously changed U2 spy planes from the cold war to use to take light-sensitive images of entire forest canopies, and compares the images to measured light reflection readings from the air and from the ground, to identify large areas of Miconia growth, which teams are then able to search for and uproot.  This is a very complex, and rather interesting, method of localizing invasive species, however it appears it may be too slow to get rid of a species that grows so fast.  Unfortunately, other options would likely include harsh chemicals that could harm nearby native species, so it seems that, for now, the solution will work as long as teams work quickly.  Preserving the biodiversity in the Hawaiian islands is essential, so eradicating this invasive weed should become a large effort to ensure success.

Image taken from http://www.hawaiiecoregionplan.info/threats.html

Image taken from http://www.pbs.org/strangedays/episodes/invaders/experts/miconia.html

Filed Under (SW2) by Jania Arcia-Ramos on 10-09-2010




The documentary “Strange Days on Planet Earth” centralizes the point that humans are “fueling the traffic” of species through global transportation, an action that can become detrimental to society. Before airplanes, trains, or cars existed, species migrations were limited because they were bounded by natural barriers such as oceans or mountains; as a result, those migrations would only occur at a very slow rate. However, the development of modern transportation has created species without borders who can migrate to areas that were previously unreachable, and who can do so at an incredibly faster rate.

Often, people are not aware of the dangers that these accelerated migrations can bring about, but as the film effectively depcits, species without borders can be extremely hazardous. In New Orleans, for instance, many people have lost their homes to the invasive formosan subterranean termites that were introduced to the area after WWII. Originally from Tokyo, the specie made its way to the U.S. through the transportation of wooden crates that contained the belongings of soldiers who were coming home after the war. The climate and wooden houses of New Orleans have made the survival of the termites very formidable which has led to the suffering of many locals. Another issue brought on by the spread of invasive species is the increase of disease in Uganda due to Water Hyacinth.  This aquatic plant appeared on Lake Victoria in 1989, and has made the life of fishermen and other locals a disaster since. In Uganda, Water Hyacinth doesn’t have the local predator that it had in its native land, and therefore, it has been able to spread at an incredible rate, almost covering the entire lake. Its location not only makes it difficult for fishermen to get out to fishing waters, but since it covers the top of the water, it prohibits the passage of sun to plants laying below. Without sun, the plants rot and water becomes putrefied. This is bad news for the locals who obtain their drinking water directly from this lake, and who now have to face diseases due to the infected water.

As can be seen, invasive species is an important issue that needs to be addressed. Once species invade, it can be very difficult and extremly expensive to get rid of them. Therefore, it is necessary to be aware of the issue so that we can somehow try to prevent it because species without borders will eventually mean far less species, including less humans.

Filed Under (SW2) by Max Castillo on 09-09-2010

Even if you have no idea what invasive species are or what they cause, watching Strange Days on Planet Earth will practically turn your non-existent opinion into one that sounds educated and informed. This short film is dedicated to showcasing an issue that may not seem like an issue at all to some people, and the seriousness of the topic among scientists and ecologists.

The film premiers the origins and effects of a variety of invasive species, as well as counters to them and public/professional opinions. The video remains under an hour, but covers a host of topics and species, so content is minimal in quantity but maximum in quality. Which is excellent because people aren’t very inclined to watch extensively long videos regarding things they’ve never heard about. The pacing is such that a newcomer to the topic will not have any trouble following along, yet a veteran of the issue will still learn a thing of two. As a result, the length and pacing of the video are optimal for allowing the viewer to learn while still remain entertained. Also, the switching between CGI effects, interviews, and actual video ensures no one part of the movie gets too monotonous and slow.

However, not everything about this movie is perfect. The above mentioned CGI effects are…not even passable, to put it bluntly. This would not be the case if I wouldn’t have recently learned that Finding Nemo was released two years before this film in 2003 with incredible CGI. And with the funding of National Geographic, one would expect the effects in this movie to be better. There are some issues with the content of the film too, regarding the interviews and tone of the movie. The interviews are informative and interesting to hear (especially about the termite problem in New Orleans) but they are too repetitive. They seem to be the same 2-3 people or experts doing all the talking; a little more variety in the people interviewed would have been nice. The tone of the movie was my biggest criticism though. It was appropriate in some cases, but over the top in others. At times the narrator made it sound as if this is going to be the apocalypse or some other world destroyer, all while sounding preachy. The film did convince me that invasive species are an issue, but it did not sway me to believe that this is the equivalent of a nuclear war. However, others may find the tone to not be an issue.

All together, the film does provide an array of knowledge for all members of the audience to gain, all while keeping them entertained and interested. If one can overlook the terrible CGI, the repetitiveness of the interviews and the sense of doom and gloom surrounding certain parts, this film is an excellent short documentary regarding an issue many don’t know about.

Filed Under (SW2) by Russell Buescher on 09-09-2010

Through the film, “Strange Days on Planet Earth” (2005), director Edward Norton has achieved his goal of promoting awareness of invasive species. Narrating from a neighborhood cul-de-sac, Norton’s explains the local impacts of these micro- and macroscopic organisms. In a series of well-edited sequences, the viewer is transported to a New Orleans invested by termites, a Lake Victoria covered in water hyacinth, and a Hawaii overgrown with miconia. Each location had vivid explanations of what precipitated the infestation, what the result was, and what is currently being done.

A striking observation from each location is how such small human actions could trigger huge ecological ramifications, as shown through flashbacks sequences in the film. A simple foreign plant given as a gift could take over an entire forest. Organisms invisible to the human eye can easily be transported long distances on clothing, shipping cargo, and any mode of transportation they can find. One of the scientists in the film even noted that he was wearing specialized boots to prevent even himself from spreading the species he was studying to foreign areas.

Globalization, as explained by the film, is one of the primary causes of such spreads. Never before had animals had the mobility to cross such vast distances and establish holds in foreign habitats. The skyrocketing rate of world trade expansion has overridden animal migration, natural selection, and adaptation. Foreign species are being haphazardly inserted into ecosystems that can not cope with them. Variety of species is on the decline, and as emphasized in the movie, animals found nowhere else in the world are being out-competed by new invaders.

However, there is still hope. The film outlined several measures used to fight these invaders. Precisely allocated poison was used to kill off swarms of New Orleans termites right in their networks of tunnels. Water Hyacinth in Lake Victoria are being kept off the banks through careful use of risky bio-control. Miconia is being cleared from the forest of Hawaii by organized groups of volunteers and solo environmentalists. With cinematography that is pleasing to the eye, “Strange Days on Planet Earth” (2005) raises an important issue to all species in this new, globalized world.

Filed Under (SW2) by Blair Ballard on 09-09-2010
According to the National Geographic documentary, “Strange Days on Planet Earth,” termites were first introduced to the United States via wooden crates brought back by the US troops from Tokyo after WWII. Unknown to the US, the local wood used to construct the crates was infested with termites. These crates would later be placed in garbage dumps, where the termite population would start their destructive impact on the south by 1960.
Termites are small winged insects that feed on wood. They search for food twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Despite their small size, their very social nature makes them very destructive in a large group. Termites today cost the US $1.5 billion dollars annually.
Like any alien species in a new environment, termites had their odds against them. Unluckily, the south provided the perfect environment for termites. The hot, sticky climate of Louisiana is very similar to the native climate of Tokyo. New Orleans was an especially good target for the termite because the town is built mostly with wood, the main food in a termite’s diet. Another thing that makes the termites so resilient in New Orleans is their advantage over the native pests. Unlike local insects that can only live underground, termites can live both below and above ground, making them less exposed to pesticides. Termites have become so prominent in New Orleans that over one thousand buildings are infested with nests that reach up to one hundred feet long, and the ones that aren’t are always at risk.
Claudia Riegel, an expert featured on the documentary, knows her battle against termites is a losing one that can simply be managed at best. The first step she and her colleagues have taken is targeting the supply lines and nests by placing poisonous bait stations throughout the city. Presumably, the termites will take the poison back to the nest and eventually kill the other termites.
In my opinion, the approach that is being taken is the smartest option. To exploit the very communal and social eating habits of the termites is logically the most natural way to solve the problem. It presents no effects to the ecosystem that I am aware of, which is something hard to accomplish when combating invasive creatures. Unfortunately, this approach is not one that seems to be sufficient in controlling a problem that is costing such a significant amount in damages to the state.
Filed Under (SW2) by Tyler Lacy on 09-09-2010

In April 2005, National Geographic released a documentary series entitled “Strange Days on Planet Earth.”  After having watched Volume I, I must say that National Geographic did a great job of conveying their message while also captivating the audience. The film discusses invasive species around the planet, the devastating effects that they cause, and how humans are exacerbating the problem.

Volume I starts with Edward Norton dramatically alluding to the devastation of our planet. In an ominous and spooky opening, Norton uses the connotations of the word “alien” to set the mood of the film. Even though, in this context, the world “alien” is referring to non-native species, after the first five minutes of the film the audience is entranced in the film. This catching opening combined with varying cinematography and special effects makes the documentary interesting and quite captivating. “Strange Days on Planet Earth: Volume I” covered a variety of invasive species and linked them in a way that was both interesting and provocative. It covered topics like water hyacinth in Uganda causing unusable water, termite infestations in New Orleans destroying infrastructure and houses, miconia in Hawaii making the ground unstable by killing off other species and leading to landslides, and the film clearly linked invasions of non-native species with the extinction of native species.

National Geographic’s “Strange Days on Planet Earth: Volume I” is a fascinating and informative documentary on the invasive species that plague our planet. The movie educates watchers on ways that humans are making the problems worse by causing the spread of many species to non-native lands and informs them of some of the many problems that people are facing all over the planet because of invasive species in their homeland. I believe it is important for people to understand human-caused problems in our world so in the future they can be prevented and I would recommend the documentary to anyone.

Filed Under (SW2) by Katie Ferguson on 09-09-2010

Termites causing houses to topple, water hyacinth choking the shores of a prosperous fishing lake, and trees causing landslides are all issues discussed in the episode titled “Invaders” from the documentary series Strange Days on Planet Earth. The plants and animals mentioned in the episode are all invasive species, ones that have moved to a new area and begun to thrive there, often with detrimental effects to the native species in that region. This increasingly rapid spread of species is mostly the fault of humans, who provide easy rides for species on the move. The movement of species out of their native range is a process that occurs naturally, but it’s recent meteoric acceleration is directly related to the many ways that the world has become connected through trade. Edward Norton, narrator and host of the series, put it well when he said that, “globalization of trade drives globalization of species.”

“Invaders” gave a broad overview of invasive species, such as how and why some species have been able to adapt so well in new areas, and also focused in on some specific and particularly dramatic problem areas. One of these was the presence of foreign termites in New Orleans. These termites feel right at home in the warm, humid climate and are happily munching away on the many wood homes, causing huge amounts of property damage. The termites were introduced when troops coming home from Asia after World War II made crates from trees there, trees in which the termites were living. Another invader discussed in the episode was the Miconia tree, a native of Mexico that was introduced to Hawaii because of it’s ornamental appeal. This tree has spread and shaded out native trees, causing them to die and leaving only the shallow roots of Miconia in the soil. Because of this, there have been increasingly bad landslides and increased erosion, sending more sediment into the waters around the island. This sediment smothers coral reefs, killing the coral and many of its associated species.

Invasive species are damaging to property, human health, and native species in the areas that they invade. In fact, just behind loss of habitat, invasive species are a leading cause of extinction for native species. I think that the documentary portrayed the topic of invasive species very well, touching on everything from why some species have been so invasive to the far reaching effects that they can have on property and industry (the water hyacinth in Lake Victoria was a big issue for the local fishermen). “Invaders” is a well-made film that I would recommend to anyone interested in more information about invasive species.