Invasive Principles #4: Embrace Disturbed Environments and Tumultuous Times

Invasive species tend to find significant opportunities for success in two quite different types of ecosystem.  As described previously in Principle #3, the first is the isolated ecosystem, the type that has not suffered any kind of external shock for so long that its inhabitants have evolved no defense mechanisms against invaders.

The second type of ecosystem is, counter-intuitively, almost the exact opposite to the first, namely the disturbed ecosystem.  This type includes environments that are regularly, or have been recently, flooded, burned, built upon, deforested, polluted or in any other way altered.  Many invasive weeds flourish along road sides and railway lines, river banks, agricultural land and on the edges of forests.  Interestingly, there is some evidence that even native species which behave aggressively in stable conditions may also act invasively when those conditions are disturbed.

Human ecosystems can be disturbed by a variety of factors.  In the USA, for example, a combination of the growth in the elderly population with the decline in the number of primary care physicians is widely predicted to create a crisis in the health care system.  But for an invasive species this is a huge market opportunity as well and we should expect to see innovative business models and services arising to exploit it.

Other opportunities arise in ecosystems that were hit by sky-rocketing oil prices, swooning real estate prices and collapsing financial markets just a couple of years back.   As recently as September 2008 we saw the extinction of at least one business species, namely the Wall Street Investment Bank, and others will likely be threatened.  But the gaps left by the loss of these businesses will soon be filled by new services and offerings.  It is perhaps too early to say who will emerge as winners from the recession but it is likely that those who are currently buying up real estate at heavily discounted prices, those who are actively engaged in the exploitation of alternative energy sources, and those who are developing new lending instruments will be among them.

Of course, business ecosystems can also be disturbed by the actions of innovators.  These actions often create conditions that are conducive to follow-on innovations.