New books (see below) sometimes remind me of older books that may not have gotten enough attention from reviewers when they first came out. That is certainly the case for the excellent and readable Nature Out of Place by Roy and Jason Van Driesche.
It begins with good intention, innocently, unobtrusively. An attractive ornamental chestnut tree is imported from Asia in the early twentieth century carrying a fungus with which it has co-evolved but which devastates the chestnut's North American cousins.
A boat arrives from Europe in the late 1980s and discharges its ballast, containing larvae of zebra mussels, into the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Within a few years, water systems on the Great Lakes and nearby rivers are clogged with colonies of invaders that have overwhelmed and displaced native mussel species.
European explorers bring swine and other nonnative livestock to Hawaii. The animals transform the texture of the soil, creating niches for vegetative invaders. Centuries later, feral pigs continue to drive the transformation of the ecology and the loss of precious, unique habitats and species.
Leafy spurge, an Asian perennial, arrives in North America, probably for the first but certainly not the last time, in the 1820s as seed in ballast soil from European merchant ships. First noticed in Massachusetts in 1827, it slowly moves westward as a troublesome but minor weed. It finally takes hold in the Great Plains at about the time chestnut blight is doing the same in the Appalachians, probably arriving in crop seed carried from the Ukraine by Mennonite immigrants. Grazing cattle won't touch it. This bit of Nature Out of Place has become a threatening alien invader.
Writing with scientific objectivity, rich detail, and quiet passion, the father-son team of Roy and Jason Van Driesche produce unique insights into the dramatic transformations that human culture and commerce have brought to ecosystems throughout the world. University of Wisconsin graduate student Jason acts as tour guide, giving readers intimate, first-person experiences in each venue, introducing them to the scientists on the front lines of investigation and action. University of Massachusetts professor Roy lays out the scientific background.