by Kyle Powys White
Ecological scientists often define “indigeneity” as a species’ ecological nativeness to a place. A species is indigenous or native when its presence in a region stems from natural processes and not human ones. Indigenous species are not necessarily unique, or endemic, to a particular region. Points of human influence distinguish indigenous (prior) from nonindigenous (newcomer) species (like nonnative invasive species). Wild rice in the western Great Lakes region of North America, for example, has long been considered a native species whose ecological significance concerns the way it contributes to supporting diverse biological communities. It is a food source for waterfowl, muskrats, and various invertebrates, and a provider of roosting areas, loafing areas, and brood cover for waterfowl. Human communities can reduce wild rice populations through damming waterways, mining, or importation of nonnative invasive species for fishing, ornamental, and other purposes. Nonnative invasive species like common carp, rusty crayfish, or purple loosestrife can outcompete wild rice. Changes in indigenous wild rice species, then, have consequences for the other species to which it is related (e.g., waterfowl) in the region’s ecology (“Manoomin [Wild Rice]” 2013; David 2008; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2008; University of Wisconsin Extension 2007).