Decentring 1788: Beyond Biotic Nativeness

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<ul><li><p>Decentring 1788: Beyond Biotic Nativenessgeor_746 166..178</p><p>LESLEY HEADAustralian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER), School of Earth &amp;Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong 2522 Australia. Email:lhead@uow.edu.au</p><p>Received 13 July 2011; Revised 20 November 2011; Accepted 1 December 2011</p><p>AbstractThe usefulness of the concept of biotic nativeness has been challenged in both thesocial and natural sciences, for different reasons. This paper explores the particu-lar construction of nativeness in Australia in relation to plants, showing that thedefinition builds on and inscribes more deeply the boundary between humans andthe rest of nature seen in the wider literature. In this context two further bound-aries are etched: between some humans and others, and before and after Europeancolonisation. Such a use of nativeness as an axiom of environmental managementis argued to be problematic, foreclosing a number of future options just when weneed to increase our capacity to deal with contingency and unpredictability. Butif Australia has experienced distinctive historical processes of entrenching theseboundaries, it also has a distinctive heritage of destabilisation in a range ofgeographic work. The paper discusses how we might build on this heritage toimagine more open futures in which the problematic boundaries were removed.Some of these futures resonate with vernacular recombinations of plants fromdiverse origins.</p><p>KEY WORDS biogeography; nativeness; alien; plant; indigenous; Australia</p><p>Is wheat vegetation?An important artefact for undergraduate bio-geography students is the map in Figure 1, or amore detailed digital version in which each of thestructural vegetation types shown there wood-land and grassland, for example are furtherdivided into floristic categories according to theirdominant genera; Eucalyptus, Acacia and so on.When asked to analyse what is wrong with such amap, the good students can talk about the com-plexities of classification and boundary making,and issues of scale. It is much harder to get them toask, what vegetation is missing? Where are thecrops, the orchards, the gardens? How much of theAustralian landscape would really look like that ifyou ground-truthed it? Consider the lack of con-nection between Figure 1, and Figure 2, a map oftheAustralian wheat belt. Is wheat not vegetation?Is it not a grass, as we thought, but a mixture ofwoodland and open forest in New South</p><p>Wales (NSW), or woodland and heath in WesternAustralia?</p><p>In the State of Victoria, the shrub Pittosporumundulatum (Native Daphne, Mock Olive), anative of wet forest environments, has contrast-ing categorisations in different parts of the Floraand Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, reflecting itsdual status as both invasive and endangeredspecies. Under Schedule 3 of the Act, P. undula-tum invasion is listed as a potentially threateningprocess, and under Schedule 2, P. undulatum isidentified as a component of a rare plant commu-nity (Dry Rainforest [Limestone] Community)(Mullett, 2001, 120). This creates significantproblems for environmental managers, who oftenrespond by directing resources towards control ofintroduced species because they have a clearerinvasive status (Mullett, 2001, 120).</p><p>In his recent overview of Australian indig-enous species, Bean (2007, 10) notes that there</p><p>bs_bs_banner</p><p>166 Geographical Research May 2012 50(2):166178doi: 10.1111/j.1745-5871.2011.00746.x</p></li><li><p>have been no research-based explicit definitionsfor indigenous (native) or alien (non-indigenous,exotic, introduced) plant species in Australia.Rather most workers have used a timelineapproach focused on 1770 or 1788, the yearsmarking the arrival of the British colonisers. Hequotes Everist (1960, 51): if a plant was herewhen Banks and Solander landed, then I chooseto regard it as native (Bean, 2007, 10).</p><p>Recent scholarship has commented at lengthabout the spatial and conceptual boundaries thatare maintained in these three and relatedexamples; between native and non-native,humans and the rest of nature, vegetation andfood, invasive and well behaved, useful and notuseful. The different ways in which nativenesshas been constructed and understood is an impor-tant subset of the wider debates, with implica-tions for the status of and actions towardshumans, animals, plants, and other organisms.Work in both the social and natural sciences hasshown that understanding these constructionsrequires an understanding of the spatial and tem-poral contexts in which they are formed.</p><p>In this paper I explore the particular construc-tion of nativeness in Australia in relation toplants. Developing previous arguments about1788 marking a temporal threshold of native-ness (Head and Muir, 2004, 202), I focus here onthe way that boundary interacts with and inten-sifies spatial bounding practices in the Australiancontext. Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander spenteight days collecting 132 plant species on theshores of Botany Bay in late April to early May1770, spreading them upon a sail in the sun(Benson and Eldershaw, 2007, 118) so that theirsamples did not spoil. This was the first scientificcollection of Australian flora, an event and acollection of immense historical and scientificsignificance. But did this event usher in a newontological state? Did the iconic Banksia serratapass into a fundamentally different state ofbeing by being pressed, dried and transported toEngland? Similarly, did the seed wheat broughtby the First Fleet undergo an ontological changewhen it was planted at Farm Cove in 1788? Iargue not, and that this presents a challenge wehave yet to meet, despite being brought to the</p><p>Figure 1 Major structural vegetation types in Australia (Adapted after Carnahan 1977 and Jeans 1986).</p><p>L. Head: Decentring 1788: Beyond Biotic Nativeness 167</p><p> 2011 The AuthorGeographical Research 2011 Institute of Australian Geographers</p></li><li><p>brink by work in both the social and natural sci-ences. That is, that the concept of nativeness inplants is constituted as a temporal boundarybetween before and after, and a conceptualboundary around humans, rather than arisingfrom the properties of the plants themselves.</p><p>If the concept of biotic nativeness dissolvesunder empirical scrutiny in Australia as else-where, and is shown to be theoretically weakand internally inconsistent (Chew and Hamilton,2011, 36), a number of aspects of our attemptedmanagement of Australian biota and landscapesneed rethinking. The paper goes on to contributeto wider discussions about how we might createmore open ecological futures (Staddon, 2009)in a time of climate change. If Australia hasexperienced distinctive historical processes ofentrenching these boundaries, it also has a</p><p>distinctive heritage of destabilisation that isarguably starting to take vernacular expression.However, as I will show, these more pragmaticapproaches continue to sit somewhat uncomfort-ably with the binary narratives dominant in envi-ronmental management discourses.</p><p>As my focus on plants risks entrenchinganother division, I need to explain why the scopeof the paper does not extend to humans andanimals when the question of nativeness isclearly of much wider applicability. This deci-sion is mindful of the danger of homogenisingnon-human difference (Lulka, 2009), and theneed to take different kinds and groups ofnon-humans seriously in their own terms (Hall,2011). Plants have particular characteristics andcapacities for example, they live in distinc-tive collectives and have particular patterns of</p><p>Figure 2 The Australian wheat belt (Source: ABS, 2006).</p><p>168 Geographical Research May 2012 50(2):166178</p><p> 2011 The AuthorGeographical Research 2011 Institute of Australian Geographers</p></li><li><p>mobility that affect how we as humans attemptto manage them (Head et al., 2012). Thus whileI will argue that the boundary making aroundplants is intimately connected to boundariesaround the human, and there is considerablevalue to be gained by extending this discussioncomparatively to animals and people, it is beyondthe scope of this paper to do so fully.</p><p>The structure of the paper proceeds as follows.First I briefly review concepts of nativeness asdiscussed in the social sciences and the naturalsciences. Second I examine how nativeness isunderstood in relation to Australian vegetation. Ithen consider two main Australian contributionsto destabilising the boundaries and suggestinghow to do things differently putting the humanin, and loosening up spatiality. These contribu-tions have been driven by Australian geogra-phers encounter over the last few decades withthe social spaces of Aboriginal people. This workhas opened up more dynamic conceptualisationsof spatiality. The present paper considers howwe can do the same for time. In the concludingdiscussion I ask, what do we lose in ecologicalhealth and sustainability terms by ceding somuch power to the temporal horizon of Europeancolonisation? How can we imagine the futuremore openly if we let go of nativeness as a jus-tifiable categorisation around plants?</p><p>Fluid boundaries in human geographyThe critique of species nativeness in humangeography sits within a wider social sciences dis-cussion of the problematic boundaries aroundnature and culture (see Castree, 2005 for an over-view), in which scholars have attempted to re-cognise more complex patterns of agency thanof culture on nature or vice versa (Murdoch,1997; Clark, 2002; Whatmore, 2002). Althoughin a scholarly sense these boundaries have beencomprehensively dismantled, they show greatresilience in many spheres of social life. Inthis voluminous and complex literature, threeparticular trends are relevant to the presentdiscussion: the place of humanness in relationto boundaries, the influence of different tem-poralities, and the implications for manage-ment of loosening or removing the conceptualboundaries.</p><p>Warren (2007) reviewed diverse ways inwhich nativeness and alienness have been used inrelation to non-human species, emphasising therole of humanness in the definitions: In simpleterms, native species are those which have auto-colonized an area since a selected time in the</p><p>past . . . and alien species are those which havebeen introduced by humans, intentionally orotherwise (Warren, 2007, 428, see also Preston,2009, 703). Warren also discussed the ways inwhich temporal and spatial contexts affectedthese definitions, for example, the ways certainspecies might be considered native to Scotland.This question of definition illustrates an underly-ing ontological dilemma. As Lien and Davison(2010, 238) argued, the biological classificationof alien species . . . rests on an ontological dis-tinction between human and non-human.</p><p>The responses that Warren drew (Richardsonet al., 2008; Preston, 2009; Warren, 2009) illus-trate the ways in which such critique is conten-tious in the natural sciences. One example is thedisagreement between Warren and Preston on therole of humanness in the definition. For Preston(2009, 708):</p><p>The native/alien classification is one whichdistinguishes species on the basis of theirdispersal to an area by human vectors; itdoes not make sense to apply it to humansthemselves. . . . I find myself in agreementwith Warren when he argues that the native/alien concept can only be applied if weexclude ourselves from it but I do not regardthis as something that destabilizes the alien/native framework. It is merely a feature ofthis particular classification.</p><p>The two seem to agree on the value of this under-standing for interpreting historical patterns ofbiogeographic change the question of howthings came to be the way they are, or description rather than as a prescription for conservationmanagement decisions (Warren, 2009). Clark(2002, 107) identified another very specificmanifestation of separating out the human:</p><p>as globally oriented eco-activists, it is our taskto exercise our own mobility and interactivecapacities in order that we might find newways to keep nature inactive and at home. . . we have not in the least ceased to be con-cerned with contamination, nor given up thepatrolling of natural borders or abandonedthe rituals of purification.</p><p>Temporal issues were identified by Hinchliffe(2008), who described conservation as some-thing that comes after nature, the rationalebeing to return things to pre-existing states. Alsoin the British context, Lorimer (2008) detailedthe lure of the Clementsian climax as the tempo-ral goal towards which management aspires. In</p><p>L. Head: Decentring 1788: Beyond Biotic Nativeness 169</p><p> 2011 The AuthorGeographical Research 2011 Institute of Australian Geographers</p></li><li><p>colonial contexts (e.g. Head, 2000 on Australia,Barker, 2008 and Ginn, 2008 on Aotearoa NewZealand) the temporal lure is instead backwards,to the baseline of pristineness.</p><p>Unfixing the boundaries (Hinchliffe et al.,2005) opens up new possibilities for thinkingabout management in which matters are neversettled once and for all, and any inside/outsiderelation can only be temporary (Hinchliffe, 2008,94). Lorimer (2008) advanced the concept offluid biogeographies. Nevertheless, these discus-sions have been more fully developed in relationto wildlife management than vegetation (e.g.Lulka, 2004; Hinchliffe et al., 2005; Lorimer,2010). Arguably they are also easier to advancein the brownfields context of European conser-vation than in the postcolonial or New Worldcontext of green perspectives on environmentalissues.</p><p>Nativeness in biogeography and ecologyWithin biogeography and ecology, many dis-cussions of nativeness have taken place in thecontext of invasion ecology, influenced by thebroader context of the so-called new ecology, ornon-equilibrium ecology (Wu and Loucks, 1995;Stott, 1998; Scoones, 1999). Richardson (2011)provides a recent encapsulation of the field ofinvasion ecology, as its contributors includeleading researchers and its chapters include anumber of meta-analyses of recent literature.There is more to be said than can be said hereabout the conservation cultures of late modernityover the last 50 years, but it is important toremark on the close connection between invasionecology and New World contexts such as NorthAmerica, Australasia, and South Africa. Thisis not only because of the historic spread andinterchange of different and previously disjunctpeoples, animals, and plants (Crosby, 2004),although there is no doubt that these encountersresulted in many dramatic changes. It is alsobecause of the temporal threshold that wascrossed between nonhistory and history.</p><p>In their chapter in the Richardson volume,Chew and Hamilton (2011) analyse historicalconceptions of nativeness, developed by theBritish botanists John Henslow and H.C. Watsonin the 1830s from common law concepts ofnative and alien, and by the Swiss phytogeogra-pher Alphonse de Candolle in the 1850s. Chewand Hamilton show how these nineteenth centuryconceptualisations provided the basis for con-temporary understandings, with some modifica-tions. Indeed they argue that it is remarkably</p><p>easy to unravel the...</p></li></ul>