An Alien Perspective


American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species. Strangers on the Land . Coates, P . 2006 . University of California Press , Berkeley , CA . 276 (x + 256) pp . $39.95 (hardcover) . ISBN-10 0-520-24930-5 .

Peter Coates, Reader in American and Environmental History at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, has written an interesting book on the history of invasive species in the United States. He includes his discussion of human immigration with analogies to nonhuman invasions. The author devotes most of one of his seven chapters to a history of the introduction of the English Sparrow (Passer domesticus) and considers the few people who supported the introduction and the many people who were, and remain, strongly critical of this pest. The author also devotes a chapter to a discussion of the pros and cons of the introduced eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus globulus) from Australia (Tasmania) that now dominates much of California.

Coates emphasizes that most crops (99%) and livestock grown in the United States were intentionally introduced species and are now basic to the food system. He also accurately points out the large number of insect and weed pests that have been introduced. Most of the insect pests and the majority of the weeds were introduced by mistake. Nevertheless, hundreds of weed species intentionally introduced as crops eventually became serious pests (e.g., Johnson grass [Sorghum halepense]). The author never mentions the enormous costs to public health and agriculture that invasive species have cost the United States—about $120 billion each year in damage and control costs.

The author relates the history of alien species of flora and fauna to the wider context of human legal and illegal immigration. Coates gives the impression that he is strongly in favor of human immigration, but is critical of both Paul Ehrlich and me for allegedly being against human immigration. Actually, Coates clearly is incorrect about my position concerning legal and illegal immigrants. In fact, in the literature my stated position is quite similar to that of Charles Elton, who was quoted in this book as indicating that human population growth is the number one environmental problem in the world. Immigrants, for example, contribute 70% to the annual rapid population growth and overpopulation problem in the United States.

Despite Coates' error concerning human immigration, his writing is excellent, and he provides an interesting perspective on invasive species and human immigration. I am sure that ecologists, geographers, sociologists, agriculturists, and historians will be interested American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species.