America’s foundation is one of change, whether its cultural, ideological, or ECOLOGICAL. America has been founded on the premise of changing the unknown into something that is familiar, regardless of the consequences. As we find out in Mann’s National Geographic article “America, Found and Lost,” the settlers have introduced wide varieties of lifeforms not native to the North American continent.
The first settlers brought over honeybees, as an attempt to enable the production of honey in the New World. What ended up happening, however, was the pollination of native plants that did not require pollination to grow. Some plants were able to adapt to being pollinated, while others, however, were lost forever.
The English settlers introduced earthworms, unknowingly. When the early colony’s tobacco trade started taking off, merchant ships were sailing over to get as much tobacco as possible, and to lose weight, they dumped out ballasts, or dirt balls, that contained worms. these worms quickly spread throughout the forest ground, eating up the foliage on the forest floor, taking away vital nutrients from trees, and eventually causing many forests to suffer.
Domestic animals were brought over to the New World, but these animals had a larger effect on the ecosystem than one would think. As more and more animals were being brought over, more and more pasture land was needed. Furthermore, they dug up important roots and herbs from the ground and ate them, making it harder for the Indians to find these plants when they were needed.
In Williams’s “America’s Ancient Forests: From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery,” we find out that the Indians themselves had great influence over the fragile American ecology (are we really STILL recovering???) Williams claims that the Indians had a great effect on large mammals in North America, saying that their great hunting skills allowed them to hunt these animals to extinction.
No matter how you look at it, America was born to change the way things are, and make them into something familiar.
Nowadays, America’s ecosystem is still being altered, but in other ways. Next time you consider planting non-native plants in your garden, or plan on getting an exotic pet, just remember that all small actions have their consequences, and if you don’t realize that, then you are the one that allows this to happen. (yes, that is a french fry in its hands)
Mann, Charles C. America, Found and Lost.
Williams, John Warren. America’s Ancient Forests: From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery. 2000.