Ta da! The LA chapter of my series on humans in nature is here. This is the first piece in an ongoing series I'll be doing on humans and nature. In this series I explore the in-between spaces, the places where cities spill over into the nature around them, and where nature spills right back into the cities, shaping and influencing them. These places are not wild - they are heavily influenced by humans, through the construction of roads and buildings, the introduction of new species, and the negative impacts of pollution; but equally they are surprisingly rich ecosystems, bastions of nature occupying human spaces. It is these spaces that often host some of the most interesting ecosystems, crazy ecological mishmashes of native and introduced species, which establish themselves amidst pavements and skyscrapers, and which don’t just survive, but in fact thrive within these constraints.
Basically, it's these places that are the most fascinating - and also a space to watch in future, to study how nature will be able to coexist and even thrive in a heavily human-influenced world. One of the books that has really inspired me to this series is The New Wild by Fred Pearce - in this book, Pearce explores the role of non-native species in shaping the ecosystems of the future. It's a controversial book, for sure, in that it challenges our long-held desire to conserve ecosystems as they are, and try to root out or exclude non-native species. Pearce argues that it is these very species trying to creep in that are most able to cope with human pressures, and which will thus be able to create a foundation for the ecosystems of the future. It's not a sentimental book, and it's easy to get angry at his perspectives. When I recall the ecosystems I grew up next to, especially the chaparral of the LA foothills, the nostalgia that I feel utterly refuses the possibility of accepting takeovers by invasive species. But given the way that society and human infrastructure is expanding, the impact of humans on the ecosystems around them is a non-negotiable fact, and the sooner we accept this reality, the sooner we can study, understand, appropriately manage, and even appreciate ecosystem change. That includes the introduction and impact of non-native species, and Pearce argues that, rather than simply trying to exclude them, we study them. Study the way new mishmash ecosystem grows. Study the roles new species take on. In what ways do non-native species contribute to their new homes?
Since cities are so often a vector for introduced species and ecosystem change (roads and buildings cut through ecosystems, modifying how animals move around the landscape, how plant seeds are distributed, and where water flows; the conglomeration of concrete buildings can create a heat bubble that has impacts on the local climate; household pets and escaped petshop animals change ecosystem composition; the seeds of introduced garden plants fly over garden fences and their roots grow under them, make their way into the landscape outside the city; the list goes on), this series will focus primarily on urban areas. But as it goes on I will also delve into natural spaces that are experiencing human influence, including issues of tourism, pollution, development, and resource extraction. There are just so many fascinating areas where collisions between humans and nature occur, and I hope to shed some light on them through this series.