Thursday, November 25, 2004

Free Willy, Finding Nemo, and the spread of invasive species 

Thanksgiving was very nice, partly because it included my sister and her husband, both entomologists at Montana Western University. The TigerHawk sister is an expert on "invasive species," which are non-native species of plant or animal that alter the local ecology. The "cane toads" that are torturing Australia are a presently famous example.

In any case, somewhere between bloody marys and dinner my sister passed along an interesting factoid -- apparently popular movies with an "animal liberation" theme, such as Free Willy or Finding Nemo, motivate people to free their pets, which inevitably result in the introduction of invasive species into the local ecology. After the release of Finding Nemo, for example, people released their tropical fish locally, no doubt in satisfaction of pleas from their spoiled children. Scientists have now seen fish in reefs off of Florida that properly belonged on the other side of the world. It remains to be seen whether any of these released species will change the ecology of their new home.

Who would have thought that animal lib pop culture would have such unintended consequences? We live in a fantastically complex world.


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