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Lecturer warns of taking species for granted in 'The Conversation'

Published: 26 September 2013

An article on the value of wasps by Dr James Dyke, Lecturer in Complex Systems Simulation, and a members of the Agents, Interaction and Complexity research group in ECS, appears in today’s edition of The Conversation, a new online news source from UK universities.

James’s article ‘Wasps deserve to be loved’ examines the public’s negative attitude to wasps compared to the importance of the role they play in complex ecosystems – particularly in pollinating species by feeding on nectar, and in feeding solid food, in the form of common garden pests, to their larvae. ‘It would be practically impossible to predict the impact of the extinction of even a single species of wasp on the many other creatures and plants it interacts with, directly or indirectly,’ comments James.

Drawing a parallel with the legal rights accorded by the UK even to suspected terrorists, as in the recent Abu Qatada case, James concludes that while wasps may be a nuisance, and even life-threatening to some people, they and other species deserve our fullest consideration in terms of the benefit of their activities to the biosphere: ‘Until recently, we have simply taken for granted that the other species we share the Earth’s biosphere with contribute greatly to our well being,’ he writes. 'In an important way, these hidden benefits are very much like rights – you only notice how vital they were after they are taken away.’

James confesses to being fascinated by the Earth and in particular the way it has been affected by the emergence and evolution of life. ‘How did life start on Earth? Is there life elsewhere in the universe? - For as long as I can remember I experience a singular mix of emotions when looking up at the clear night sky,’ he says, ‘something that alas doesn't happen very often being a city dweller. My previous job at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry was centrered around the Helmholtz Alliance project, Planetary Evolution and Life, that was coordinated by the German Aerospace Agency.' He is still a member of the NASA Astrobiology Focus Group Thermodynamics, Disequilibrium and Evolution.’

More recently James has become interested in how a particular species is affecting the Earth and what that may mean for life now and in the future. ‘Anthropogenic Climate Change has become something of a cause celebre’, he comments, ‘but other impacts that Homo sapiens are having on the Earth system are arguably as profound and long-lasting.’

James is a co-chair of Sustainability Science Southampton

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