It says something of modern times that a new branch of science should have had to come into being: "invasion biology." A flourishing division of conservation biology and ecology, invasion biology studies the ever-increasing introduction of alien species into new environments--the Chinese vine kudzu in the American South, for example, or the brown tree snake in Guam--where they rapidly displace native species and upset local balances of nature.
French scientist Alexandre Meinesz reports firsthand on his work in invasion biology in Killer Algae, a grim and frightening book. In it, Meinesz recounts a seemingly innocent transaction that has had appalling consequences. In 1980, a curator at the city zoo in Stuttgart, Germany, introduced a hybrid, cold-resistant variety of the alga Caulerpa taxifolia into the zoo's aquarium, where it proved to be a productive source of food. Encouraged, the curator sent a sample to the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, then headed by Jacques Cousteau. During a routine cleaning of aquarium tanks, a quantity of Caulerpa was dumped into the Mediterranean Sea. Meinesz, an expert on the alga, was called onto the scene when a museum worker noticed, some days later, that a mere bucketful had grown to cover a square yard. He suggested that the alga be removed, but his suggestion went unheeded. Now, nearly two decades later, the "beautiful stranger," as Meinesz calls it, has spread throughout the Mediterranean basin, covering some 10,000 acres and displacing native algae as it spreads. The result may be a wholesale remaking of the Mediterranean environment, already long victimized. Meinesz's sobering tale speaks much to the fragility of ecosystems--and to the short-sightedness of humans. --Gregory McNamee
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From Publishers Weekly
Could the diversity of the Mediterranean's sea life be destroyed by one alga? In this compelling account of an ecological problem gone awry, French marine biologist Meinesz relates his harrowing attempts to alert the world to the threat posed to the Mediterranean Sea by a tropical alga escaped from the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. Meinesz demonstrates how the cold-adapted Caulerpa taxifolia has, kudzulike, begun to overrun millions of acres of diverse, undersea habitat. Healthy ecosystems that previously harbored numerous species are becoming algal monocultures. In addition to the ecological damage, the alga's rampant growth has provoked a decline in the fishing and tourism industries. Meinesz's story is a frightening one, reading more like a science fiction thriller than a scientific account. Officials at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, refusing to acknowledge their role in the alga's original release, undertook a major public relations campaign against Meinesz, attacking his credibility while praising the virtues of the alga. Amid the press reports, averted eyes of governmental officials and broken promises of research funding, the alga spread, disrupting new habitats. Although the book focuses on the French reaction to one algal species, David Quammen (Song of the Dodo) points out in his foreword: "This is not a little book about some noxious alga. This is a little book... about life on Earth." (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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