Could we learn to love slugs and snails in our gardens?


By Bethaney Turner, University of Canberra and Valerie Caron, CSIRO Canberra, May 13 (The Conversation) Before you squash or poison the next slug or snail you see in your garden, consider this: the British Royal Horticultural Society only classifies more these gastropods as pests. Why on earth would a top gardening organization do this, you might be wondering. After all, slugs and snails are generally seen as a problem, given their eagerness to devour the plants you have lovingly grown.

The problem is that they are part of nature. Slugs and snails play a key role in healthy ecosystems, acting to break down organic matter and providing a food source for blue-tongued lizards, frogs and kookaburras.

So can we learn to live with slugs and snails? Yes, if we reframe the way we see these invertebrates. After all, the definition of “harmful” is based on our perception and may change over time. By rejecting the “pest” status of many invertebrates and advocating for planet-friendly gardening, the horticultural society directly links the local actions of gardeners to our global biodiversity crisis.

Their lead entomologist, Andrew Salisbury, argued that “now is the time to graciously accept, if not actively encourage, more of this life in our gardens”.

This doesn’t necessarily mean letting them destroy your lettuces. Nature can help. Attracting lizards, frogs and birds to your garden can help control slugs and snails and boost biodiversity.

Are these “pests” really legitimate inhabitants of the garden? Gardening has grown in popularity during the pandemic. With widespread wet weather on the east coast of Australia, gardeners are more likely to see – and potentially be bothered by – slugs and snails.

So should Australian gardeners follow the UK’s lead? Should we try to accommodate all species in the garden? Responses to these questions typically describe slugs and snails as “pests”, invoke the idea of ​​a division between native and non-native species, or describe the perceived damage caused by invasive species.

Let’s first address the pest argument. We define pests based on perception. This means that what we consider a pest can change. The garden snail is a good example. Many gardeners consider them pests, but they are cherished by snail farmers who raise them for human consumption.

In contrast, many scientists consider the concept of invasive species to be less subjective. The Australian Department of the Environment defines them as species outside their normal range (often representing them as non-native) that “threaten valuable environmental, agricultural or social resources through the damage they cause”. Even that definition, however, is a bit rubbery.

Over the past few decades, researchers in the humanities, social sciences, and some natural sciences have shown that our ideas about naivety and invasiveness are also changing. Is the dingo a native animal, for example, having been introduced thousands of years ago? Would it still be considered a native if introduced to Tasmania where it does not occur? Despite these questions about their value, the notions of “pests” and “invasive species” have proven to be remarkably persistent in ecological management.

What exactly are the slugs and snails we find in our gardens? Australia has a great diversity of land snails, with many species yet to be described. However, many species are in decline due to introduced predators and habitat loss, and now require conservation efforts.

Does this include our gardens? Well, most snails and slugs found in gardens are considered non-native species that were accidentally introduced. The snails’ ability to spread far and wide means these humble gastropods are on Australia’s official list of priority pests. We already have biosecurity measures in place to prevent the unwanted introduction of new snail species.

The common garden snail, native to the Mediterranean, has now spread to all states and territories. But other species continue to spread, such as the Asian tramp snail on the east coast or the green snail, which is currently restricted to Western Australia. So if we accept the existence of all kinds of snails and slugs in the garden, we could undermine efforts to detect and control some of these species.

Although slugs and snails generally do not pose a serious threat to our vegetable gardens, some species are known agricultural pests. The common garden snail can cause significant damage to citrus trees and young trees, while slugs such as the leopard slug or gray field slug can devastate seedling fields. The damage they can cause means that farmers and their advanced bodies would feel uncomfortable changing the way we think about these land molluscs.

Some snails can also carry dangerous parasites like the rat lungworm or the trematode worm Brachylaima cribbi. These can hurt us, especially if a snail is accidentally eaten or the vegetables in the garden become contaminated. If we let the snails move around unhindered, we could increase the number of infections. Pets and children are most at risk.

Should we then follow the example of the United Kingdom? Rethinking the way we perceive and react to creatures usually considered pests in the garden is not straightforward. But it’s worth thinking about, because it requires appreciating how interdependent humans and nonhumans are. And we can better understand how our simple actions in our gardens can extend to affect human and planetary health and well-being.

The world’s continuing loss of biodiversity and ever-changing climate must inform how we relate to and care for non-human life – from mycelium in the soil to gastropods – that animate our gardens.

This does not mean that everything should have an equal chance to flourish. But it forces us to be careful. Observing, questioning and being curious about our entangled lives. This kind of attention could help us take a more ethical approach to the daily life and death decisions we make in our patch.

What does it look like? By understanding gardens as interconnected natural and cultural spaces, we can work to limit our resident slug and snail population and promote biodiversity. An ideal way to start is to design a site that is welcoming to lizards, frogs and birds. (The Conversation) NSA

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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