When a wolf succeeds in catching a rabbit for dinner, which of them is a pest?
Is a wolf a pest while it catches rabbits and deer? When it catches a lamb?
Is a rabbit a pest while it eats clover, or only when it eats the greens in the garden?
Is a ladybeetle a pest while it consumes aphids in the fields, or only when they swarm houses in the fall?
Is the definition of a ‘pest’ completely human-centric? It seems we call these living beings pests only when they bother us, but not when they bother other organisms we are not personally invested in.
We have deeply interdependent relationships with bacteria, fungi, viruses, nematodes, insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds of every kind. Almost all of these organisms are quite benign in healthy ecosystems. When the ecosystem is degraded, they proliferate, and begin feeding on the animals or plants we have a vested interest in. Then we proceed to label them as a pest or a pathogen.
But if it is us that has mismanaged the ecosystem, are we the pathogen?
The environment/ecosystem determines the presence and proliferation of all these living beings.
If we are to be stewards of these ecosystems, we must acknowledge that it is our management of the environment that determines whether these organisms express themselves as a benign participant or as a pest.
If we want to accept responsibility and make a difference, it does not seem useful to label living beings as pests.
Labeling is a subtle subconscious shifting of responsibility. “I am not responsible for these pests! They invaded! From out there. They are out of control. The weather was awful, the season was wet/dry/hot/cold.”
Neither the wolf nor the rabbit is a pest. They are symbionts in the environment and are dependent on the greater ecosystems they are a part of to sustain themselves.
Neither spider mites nor fusarium is a pest or a pathogen. Nor are any other insects, nematodes, bacteria or fungi. They are simply present in the environment we have created for them. If they proliferate to the point of causing crop loss, it is because we have managed the ecosystem to create an optimal environment for them.
If we desire them to not be present to the point of causing economic damage, we only need to manage the ecosystem differently.