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Politics and Ecology: Organisms and Their Environments

The term "arms race" came into the public’s psyche during the Cold War between the USSR and the United States. During this time, each country spent billions of dollars and millions of man-hours pioneering newer and more creative weapons and weapon defense systems. Practically as soon as one country would unveil a new advanced weapon, the other country would unveil their equally elaborate defense for that weapon. This went on and on until the USSR collapsed, and the arms race essentially ended without a major worldwide catastrophe. Ecologists and evolutionary biologists co-opted the phrase to describe how prey adapt physically, behaviorally, and chemically to defend against predator attacks and how predators likewise adapt to circumvent new prey defenses. These evolutionary arms races can result in such peculiar and fantastic adaptations that, to some, they seem like the stuff of science fiction.

A much more recent, and perhaps relevant, example of the relationship between politics and ecology is the controversy and debate surrounding the ecological impacts of building a barrier (read: fence) along the US-Mexico border. This intersection between ecology and politics is especially interesting because it influences both human and animal ecology. The fence is being built to prevent the migration of humans from Mexico into the United States, and the reasons for erecting this barrier are political, not ecological.

All the same, the result of restricting movement among the human populations is purely ecological: In theory, the US population will stay smaller and more manageable politically, economically, and socially. However, the fence is also restricting movement of nonhuman species, including the endangered Sonoran Pronghorn, an antelope-like mammal. Because of this ecological impact, many ecologists and environmentalists see the fence as a negative thing for more than just political reasons.

Other people, though, see the ecological issues as a nuisance to political goals. A recent article on FoxNews.com, for example, ran with this headline: "Endangered Animal Horning in on Arizona Border Security." (Read the article here.) If this article had been written by an ecologist, we suspect that the headline would have read quite differently. Maybe "Border Fence Threatening Endangered Animals." So, just when we were beginning to think the immigration issue in the US was cooling down (yeah...right), it turns out to be exceedingly more complex than anyone ever predicted. For many, the ecological issues related to the border fence are just as important, if not more important, than the political ones. Which side of the fence are you on?

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