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4.6 out of 5 stars19
4.6 out of 5 stars
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
During the winter of 2013, I noticed that the upper walls in the bedrooms of my house had acquired strange "cornices" - like large red-black buttons - further investigation revealed these to be clusters of hibernating ladybirds - and their slightly unladybird-like spot patterns and colours led me to identify them as Harlequins, one of the alien species reported to be larger and more aggressive than our shyer, more gentle native species, and a typical subject of this fascinating book by Dr Ken Thompson, a research ecologist who has brought his expert eye to the history, development, sociology and culture of this fascinating topic. The book is highly readable and informative (though I could do with not knowing so much about pubic lice, I'd have welcomed some discussion of grey squirrels, which don't get a mention!), and the author weaves the themes of politics, human behaviour and changing attitudes to biodiversity and conservation which helps explain the often contradictory attitudes we adopt to the invaders (often depending on the cuteness and furriness of the interloper). Thompson himself wades into the debate, coming down on the side of some unlikely species (pipe-clogging zebra mussels in power stations are efficient water purifiers for instance). I'm all for his suggestion of introducing yet another alien, the endangered Iberian lynx to sort out those pesky Spanish (or are they?) rabbits, but it may have consequences!

By the end of the book I was applauding Dr Thompsons lambasting of our irrationality, whilst at the same time realising that as a keen gardener, I'm definitely in the dock (as are we all) in the way our modern life multiplies and accelerates these conflicts.

... and the Ladybirds (or evil cold-blooded killers as Rentokil somewhat hyperbolically calls them)? Well after getting advice and being generally averse to exterminating living creatures, I let them be and they vanished as the weather warmed. Turns out they are a genetic mutation from the US and in their global spread have returned to their native patch in Siberia and Japan and are even ousting their ancestors. What to do... so complicated?

All in all a terrific read and a mine of information on invaders large and small.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 14 April 2014
The Columbian Exchange, which brought potatoes, tomatoes and maize to Europe and peppers, wheat and sugar to America, was a great boon to mankind. It was also a boon for nature, which has never been more fecund and various as now.

Most introductions are neutral or positive. Sometimes the new species escapes its natural predator or parasite, only to succumb because it has no resistance to the new bugs it finds in its new habitat. As the author points out, only about 10% of introductions survive without help from gardeners, farmers or game keepers, and only about 10% of those flourish in the wild so well as to be considered a pest. US agriculture is worth about 800 billion dollars a year, feeds large parts of the non-US world as well, and depends 95% on introduced species. So putting up with Japanese knotweed or harlequin ladybirds seems a small price to pay.

However, we seem to be prepared to pay millions in our (usually failed) attempts at eradication. Thompson suggests that this is just a socially acceptable xenophobia. We're not allowed to be racist about humans, so we take it out on plants. In fact, invasive species seem to go through a life cycle of invasiveness. Wait long enough and the invader declines to an acceptable level without any human intervention whatsoever.

Thompson writes well and amusingly. This is an eye-opening book which should be of interest to anyone who loves nature, has a garden or wonders where their taxes go. Heartily recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2014
All the literature you find on invasive species comes down to the same: kill them all. This book is the first I read that puts those plants and animals in the right perspective. They themselves are not to blame. It is our way of life (globalisation, climate change,...) that leads to disruption of ecosystems. By continuing this way, we get the new nature we deserve.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 September 2014
It's fascinating how he puts such a spin of conventional views on alien species, he takes five well known ones and through explains shows how the media puts them in a bad light.
This book really makes you think, I've always had an interest in biodiversity and the environment while doing my degree in Zoology we covered alien species and biodiversity.
It's also written in a manner if you are new to this area you'll understand it
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on 18 July 2015
Thompson gives a professional, and maybe too professional rebuttal to widespread beliefs about the danger of invasive life forms. He takes apart the data behind commonly cited studies on "foreign" creatures, showing that the damage assessments usually fail to consider any benefits that migrating plants or animals may bring. While at it, he questions the whole basis for classifying the world's plants and animals into "native" or "foreign" categories, basically by making detailed investigations of where and when various species have appeared over the course of environmental history. Overall, Thompson keeps his challenge to inter-species prejudice dry and scientific.
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on 29 October 2015
Smartly written, intelligent and wryly funny - reading this book is like going to the pub for a pint with the really cool teacher from school. As I read it, I found myself wondering why I hadn't questioned things before but Ken's style isn't in the least 'preachy' so I didn't need to beat myself up! If you have even a passing interest in science, wildlife, ecology, animals, gardening or simple human nature and you like smart writers who have a story to tell and don't patronise - buy this book. I'll be looking up the rest of KTs work ASAP.....
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on 18 October 2014
After studying environmental biology at university I thought I knew all there was to ecology and invasive species. In fact I knew very little but know i feel much better informed. I'm starting to read Ken Thompsons other books which I'm sure will be just as eye opening.
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on 10 February 2015
The book came well within time, was brand new and even sealed in its own bag! Really good price and good service, would definitely use again. Thank you :)
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on 18 March 2015
A very interesting, well-written take on the subject of "alien" species - recommended.
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on 15 October 2014
Most thought provoking - provides material for an argument with all groups of preservationists
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