Read the full story in Pacific Standard.
It’s not a widely known ecological principle, but the idea that when “life hands you lemons, make lemonade” has certainly been applied to invasive species. While not always the case, plants and animals that are benign in their own home sometimes run amok in new settings, often to the detriment of local economies and existing flora and fauna. (And like so much else, expect climate change to make their penetrations more extreme.)
You can despair—or you can start squeezin’. There’s a relatively well developed “if you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em” movement afoot, or perhaps a-fin, with legions of “invasivores” who target locally raised but unwanted invaders ranging from feral boars to nutria to iguanas to lionfish. This isn’t just a game for carnivores—that Blob of vegetation known as the kudzu vine reportedly cooks up just fine (here are some recipes from one of the many kudzu festivals dotting the South), and might even have medicinal properties.
Not to be outdone, ecologists have suggested that invasive plants be turned into feedstock for making cellulosic (as opposed to starch) ethanol. It’s pure genius: “the plan could motivate the large-scale eradication of an array of troubling invaders, avoid land use conversion, resolve the food-versus-fuel debate, result in millions of gallons of clean-burning ethanol, and finally free us from our addiction to fossil fuels.” There are even more potential benefits, albeit somewhat bureaucratic, write the three scientists at the University of Illinois’ Energy Biosciences Institute who supplied the win-win-ad infinitum list above in an article appearing in Biological Invasions.