Exotics versus Natives: Why not both?

Exotics versus Natives: Why not both?‘ is the title of a conference paper authored by Paul Naninnga, Paul Dann and Haikai Tane. It was delivered at the 1994 National Greening Australia conference in Fremantle. I’ve tried to find a copy online in the past, to no avail, so recently sourced a beat up old photocopy from, co-author, Paul Dann which I’ve scanned and am making available here:


I’ve also added it to our useful publications page.

A pioneering work on the topic of nativism and its more realistic and pragmatic alternatives. Twenty years on, it is still razor sharp and pertinent to an enlightened perspective on practical environmental and agricultural engagement in landcare, today and for the future.

Greening Australia has provided permission to reproduce with attribution–see below for the full reference for this publication.

To get you started I have provided the abstract, but be sure to read the entire paper. It is a very readable document and makes many enlightened points.

Exotics versus Natives: Why not both?

by Paul Nanniga, Paul Dann and Haikai Tane.


The adversarial notion of exotics versus natives is an ecological misconception, and the idea that one is better than the other is unscientific on ecological grounds. In order to survive, and for cultural reasons, Homo sapiens has interacted with the landscape for at least a hundred thousand years through hunting, fishing, food gathering, seed dispersal, burning, clearing, urbanising, grazing and cropping. However, new and dynamic ecosystems have been created through a process of continual adaptation, and native and exotic biota have formed new interdependencies.

A disturbing new development has been the cult of “nativism” which emphasises the exclusive use of native biota. Implicit in this doctrine is the belief that native organisms, or ecosystems, are inherently superior to those which exist through human activity. This leads to policies favouring the exclusive use of natives.

In many cases the assumptions of nativism have been accepted without any broad scientific or community debate. For example, the requirements of income generation from the land may be quite different to those for native ecosystem conservation. It is argued here that a far preferable policy is not to distinguish natives and exotics in a form of biological apartheid, but to use biota according to which is best suited to the purpose at hand. This idea applies equally well to rural and urban environments.


Nanninga, P., Dann, P., and Tane, H. 1994, ‘Exotics versus Natives: Why not both?’, in M.A. Scheltema (ed.), A vision for a greener city : the role of vegetation in urban environments, proceedings of the 1994 National Greening Australia Conference, October 4, 5 & 6, Fremantle, Western Australia.

6 responses to “Exotics versus Natives: Why not both?

  1. An interesting study in organizational, or cultural dynamics perhaps! Or,
    if I didn’t know ‘to much’ I would be a little confused; by this site.

    In recent years I have observed Paul’s tireless support for Upper Shoalhaven Landcare. Pitty his enthusiasm for both exotics and natives is not so apparent with- in the local nativist landcare ethos!


    • Certainly not aiming to confuse Rob! But yes cultural dynamics do require careful study. Hope you enjoyed the paper.

      I suspect many an innovative individual has been the victim of NRM funding realities when it comes to the Upper-Shoalhaven Landcare Council. As you have experienced, you can drop in and get a very nice reception and chat, but in the end no professional Landcare facilitator is going to facilitate something they think isn’t a salable brand of Landcare. Commercial realities naturally kick in above the grassroots (volunteer) level and Landcare becomes whatever the funding bodies are willing to pay for at the time. Poisoning non-natives and planting gum trees has been bread and butter for generations.

  2. Here’s an interesting case study: boab dispersal by Aboriginal people across natural barriers – http://theconversation.com/iconic-boab-trees-trace-journeys-of-ancient-aboriginal-people-39565

    The native vs non-native question is really a question of time. How long do humans have to co-exist with a species before it acquires “native” status?

    See also: dingo

    Maybe there’s some other definition that cuts through the native/non-native debate, around the idea of species that benefit the maximum number of other species.

    PM: Waiting on your synapses to deliver chilled-truffle grade commentary.


    • So true Matthew! Perhaps measures of increasing biodiversity and biomass would be better (and more scientific) than simple lists of native or non-native as a guiding principle. Especially within agricultural landscapes.

      The fact of the Aboriginal introduction and cultivation of boabs is another clear indication of intrinsic human involvement in Australian ecological history. Traditional views of a ‘pristine pre-European’ state, when everything was perfectly natural and native, do not stack up in reality. They’re also based on a disgusting ignorance regarding the sophistication of Aboriginal culture and cultivation. Not to suggest that everything they did was perfect, but they were clearly capable of conscious and deliberate manipulation of their environment and the ecologies they lived in.

      Will we now see “boab warriors” leaping into action to eradicate this non-native scourge?

  3. Peter Marshall

    Cultural Dynamics eh ?

    In the military the acronym USLC stands for:-

    Universal Self Licking icecream Cone .

    This term defines a bureaucracy which exists to absorb money into itself so that it may support bureaucrats to justify its existence , which is to absorb money to support bureaucrats ….etc .

    Such an institution is self governed by an internal logic which defends it from the need to be productive or responsive to the greater society .

    You may delete my past two entries . I feel a big biological metaphor coming on .


  4. Peter Marshall

    Matt ,
    Metaphor is still brewing .
    Meanwhile saw a shocking doco on NITV .
    Presenter was showing us how his ancestors cooked roo and emu in earth ovens . Holes were a metre deep . Gutted , not skinned carcases stuffed with native lemon grass , laid on coals and covered with bark and earth .
    Emu head poking out , when flesh was cooked the grass would start smoking out of mouth . Dinner ready .
    He made the point that a family would make an oven every few days . Multiply that by 40,000 years and it is a lot of biochar .

    The frightening thing is that his homeland has been grazed for a century and is now dotted with exposed oven circles .
    The bottoms of the ovens are now at ground level .
    A metre of topsoil gone since Apocalypse Cow arrived .


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