Posted Saturday morning, February 24, 2018.
“A three-foot deep pile of zebra mussel shells about 50 yards long are piled up along the Lake Winnebago shoreline in April 2012 at Wayside Park just north of Fond du Lac. Scientists want to use an experimental chemical on an inland lake in Wisconsin in hopes of finding a way to stem the spread of the invasive mussel.” Photo by Mark Hoffman courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
This is objectively, scientifically fascinating, until the end, when it gets subjectively, scientifically scary…
By luck or superior adaptation, a few species manage to escape their limits, at least for a while…Their populations grow at a terrific rate; they take over large areas, engulfing their environments as if no force opposed them. Then they hit a barrier. The drown in their own wastes. They starve from lack of food. Something figures out how to eat them.
When I lived in New York City, zebra mussels invaded the lower Hudson River, the western boundary of Manhattan island. An inch or two long with wriggly bands of brown and white, zebra mussels are capable of spitting out a million eggs a year apiece. The species originated in the Azov, Black, and Caspian Seas on Europe’s Russian- and Turkic-speaking periphery. Globalization has been good to it. Escaping their native waters, zebra mussels hitchhiked around the world in ship bilges and ballastwater. They have been recorded in Europe since the eighteenth century. The Hudson first saw them in 1991. Within a year zebra mussels constituted half the mass of living creatures in the river. In some places tens of thousands carpeted every square foot. They covered boat bottoms, blocked intake tubes, literally smothered other species of shellfish with a blanket of striped shell…
Bust followed boom; the population collapsed. In 2011, two decades after the mussel was first sighted in the Hudson, its survival rates were [according to one long-range study] “1% or less of those in the early years of the invasion…They [exhausted] their food supply, but they were also attacked by a local predator, the blue crab, which had learned to eat the newcomers…Fifteen years ago, when I went to a park at the edge of the Hudson, I couldn’t step into the river---the sharp edges of open mussel shells were too thick underfoot. Nowdays at the park the creatures are mostly gone. Children splash happily in the shallows. Crumbled shells lie in the sediment, testament to the mussel’s collapse.
Humans are no different [microbiologist Lynn Margulis believed]. The implication of evolutionary theory is that Homo sapiens is just one species among many, no different at base than [zebra mussels]. We and they are controlled by the same forces, produced by the same processes, subject to the same fate…Homo sapiens, in Margulis’s eyes was just another briefly successful species.
---from “The Wizard and the Prophet” by Charles C. Mann.