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Keywords:

  • anti-exotic bias;
  • invasive species;
  • riparian restoration;
  • scientific rigor

Abstract

Initially introduced to western United States to provide ecosystem services such as erosion control, Tamarix by the mid-1900s had became vilified as a profligate waster of water. This large shrub continues, today, to be indicted for various presumed environmental and economic costs, and millions of dollars are expended on its eradication. In this review, we examine the role of scientists in driving changes in perceptions of Tamarix from valuable import to vilified invader and (in some instances) back to a productive member of riparian plant communities. Scientists over the years have sustained a negative perception of Tamarix by, among other things, (1) citing outmoded sources; (2) inferring causation from correlative studies; (3) applying conclusions beyond the scope (domain) of the studies; and (4) emphasizing findings that present the species as an extreme or unnatural agent of change. Recent research is challenging the prevailing dogma regarding Tamarix’s role in ecosystem function and habitat degradation and many scientists now recommend management shifts from “pest plant” eradication to systemic, process-based restoration. However, prejudice against this and other non-native species persists. To further close the gap between science and management, it is important for scientists to strive to (1) cite sources appropriately; (2) avoid reflexive antiexotic bias; (3) avoid war-based and pestilence-based terminology; (4) heed the levels of certainty and the environmental domain of studies; (5) maintain up-to-date information on educational Web sites; and (6) prior to undertaking restoration or management actions, conduct a thorough and critical review of the literature.