For Whom the Pepperberry Tolls

Nov. 30, 2021

Why seemingly insignificant species are important.

Have you ever considered the fate of the Tasmanian pepperberry and its effect on the Currawong?

Probably not, because you’re not Jamba Dunn, CEO of Rowdy Mermaid, a bottler of ready-to-drink kombucha and other wellness-related beverages. The pepperberry is a key ingredient in Rowdy Mermaid’s Living Ginger Kombucha, one of its most popular flavors.

Problem is, the pepperberry also is a key ingredient in the diet of the Currawong, a crow-like bird native to Tasmania. Due to a warming climate, Tasmania’s pepperberry crops have been failing, with profound impacts on the Currawong population. So as a result, Dunn decided to discontinue Living Ginger.

This may sound like a “who cares?” story, but its seeming insignificance is key to its true meaning.

Climate change and other ecological threats often manifest themselves through endangering or even wiping out entire species. That’s why those who laughed (or seethed) at the government’s insistence on, say, preserving the snail darter were missing the point. A species going extinct is like a canary in a coal mine. Even the most inconsequential-seeming species often serves as a bellwether for ecological disaster, whether it’s a localized one like an ill-conceived giant dam, or a more widespread one like climate change.

In other words, it’s not the snail darter or the Tasmanian pepperberry or the Currawong, in and of themselves, that should concern us; it’s what’s snuffing them out. Today it’s pepperberries; tomorrow it could be an ingredient that you need.

Oh, and to Mr. Dunn: Well done.

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