Why Some Scholars See Humans As an Invasive Species

Humans aren’t perfect — we’ve made major mistakes in the past and continue to make bad decisions that will affect our future.

Rayna Skiver - Author

Jun. 26 2024, Published 10:45 a.m. ET

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When you think of an invasive species, you might imagine Burmese pythons, zebra mussels, Asian carp, or even the spotted lanternfly. What you probably don't picture is yourself.

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Between pollution and deforestation alone, we humans aren’t exactly the most beneficial to local ecosystems. Are humans an invasive species? Keep reading to see what scholars say.

Why do some people see humans as an invasive species?

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Invasive species are non-native organisms that cause widespread harm to the environment, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). When unchecked for too long, they can wreak havoc.

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These species can drastically reduce biodiversity, increase competition for resources among organisms, change habitats, and even cause native animals and plants to go extinct. We need healthy ecosystems to exist — without them, it’s impossible for life to go on (seriously).

Based on this definition, it’s easy to see why some consider humans an invasive species. After all, we’ve caused plenty of severe harm to biodiversity and habitats, including the extinction of hundreds of species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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Human-centered occurrences like burning fossil fuels, deforestation, plastic pollution, and urbanization adversely impact our planet on a large scale. These activities can lead to species losing their habitats and resources, which can end in extinction. To environmentalists, that sounds pretty invasive.

Many argue that we are non-native to this land — after all, humans successfully colonized the entire Earth. This colonization led to the destruction of ecosystems and resources, according to Scientific American. When you put all of these pieces together, it makes sense that some might consider humans an invasive species.

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Here’s why some people think humans aren’t an invasive species:

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Sometimes, scholars disagree on what makes a species invasive. Based on some definitions, such as the one mentioned earlier, it seems obvious that humans could be considered invasive. However, there’s not a single interpretation that’s completely agreed upon.

Most experts in the scientific community agree that invasive species are widely spread and cause negative outcomes. For the most part, these attributes are interpreted in the same way. But when it comes to the argument of whether or not humans are invasive, there are two things scientists can’t seem to agree on: Their introduction and nativity.

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When deeming a species invasive, introduction is an important component to consider. How did they get here? Typically, native organisms — those naturally from the area in question — aren’t considered invasive. So, if you think humans are native, then, by definition, we can’t be an introduced species.

The main argument is that we’ve been around forever, and we move ourselves — technically, we’re not being introduced to new ecosystems or habitats, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

At the end of the day, whether you consider humans invasive or not, we can all agree that it’s possible for humanity to do better for the planet. Thankfully, just as we can forgo sustainability, we also have the choice to prioritize it — there’s still plenty of time to make changes for our planet’s present and future.

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