Beware of good intentions

Posted September 21st, 2010 by kcorliss. Comments Off on Beware of good intentions.

The website, Northland Outdoors, carried a short article which caught my eye this morning. It was titled, Minnesota to use wasps to fight emerald ash borer. The relevant paragraph reads as follows…

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture plans to release stingless wasps in rural Houston County in the far southeastern corner of the state on Wednesday. The wasps are natural enemies of the ash borer and are approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a biocontrol measure.

Readers of this blog have come to realize I have a habit of evoking a certain verifiable law, the Rule of Unintended Consequences. It basically recognizes a simple and frequent fact: actions taken often lead to unintended, and sometimes dire, outcomes. You see it in politics (think Cash for Clunkers) every day. It’s also been used for centuries in the biology world where things like cane toad, Asian carp, and house sparrow come to mind.

As for the Minnesota effort, I couldn’t find any press releases on the DNR website to find any more information on their soon-to-be-released wasp. From the phrase, “The wasps are natural enemies of the ash borer,” I would go so far as to say this is a non-native species. Which, of course, has the potential to bring about bad things. Keep in mind there are oodles of parasitic wasps important to nature which parasitize everything from plants to other insects and go largely unnoticed by most people; but are vital to the “big picture.” Of the roughly 130,000 species in Hymenoptera, about 65% are parasitic.

I found a PDF from South Dakota State University which talked about the release of a certain parasitic wasp–Dinarmus acutus. It ended up displacing native wasps in an unintended way. That’s not to say something similar will happen in Minnesota but I am always wary of throwing biological artillery at biological problems. Once the genie is out of the bottle, getting it back in is, more often than not, impossible.

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