- Sep 2020
Translocating plants is nothing new. Humans have been moving plants, particularly edible, medicinal, and more recently ornamental, species throughout our history (Mack, 1999; Mack and Lonsdale, 2001). Modern horticultural and agricultural industries are responsible for wide scale translocations. This includes intra-continental plant transport, as in Europe where 73% of commercially available plant species have commercial northern range limits that exceed natural northern range limits by an average of 1000 km. Restoration ecologists have been moving species from site to site for decades in attempts to revegetate marginal or highly impacted areas, or in response to large disturbances such as wildfire. Conservation biologists around the world have been translocating and reintroducing populations for decades. For example, in the United States the federally threatened Cirsium pitcheri (Pitcher’s thistle), extirpated from the state of Illinois since the early 1900s, was reintroduced back to the state in 1991 (Pati Vitt 2009). Translocating plants is not without risk, the most problematic is the potential for a species to become invasive in its introduced range. Intercontinental movement of species has indeed resulted in problems with invasive species, but the vast majority of introduced species do not become invasive.
Many of the ideas Humboldt presented to demonstrate how geography determines the plant life growing in a particular place were conceived much earlier when he met George Forster. He had been on Captain James Cook’s second round-the-world expedition. Forster had a broad knowledge of vegetation in very different environments and opened Humboldt’s eyes to how plant life varied with access to water, altitude, and distance from the equator. At several points in the essay, Humboldt noted the environmental damage done by agriculture as forests were replaced by fields that quickly lost their fertility, leaving a degraded and useless landscape that affected local weather patterns. (Flannery 2019)\
Flannery, Maura. Humboldt: Essay on the Geography of Plants. September 23, 2019. https://herbariumworld.wordpress.com/2019/09/23/humboldt-essay-on-the-geography-of-plants/ (accessed September 9, 2020).
Pati Vitt, Kayri Havens, Andrea T. Kramer, David Sollenberger, Emily Yates. Assisted migration of plants: Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes. Acadedmic Article, Biological Conservation, 2009.