Dynamic Connections

Nature undisturbed is not constant in form, structure, or proportion, but changes at every scale of time and space…Every ecosystem is a dynamic web always in flux, always in the process of reshaping itself. Whenever we seek to find constancy we discover change. In the long run, ecologies are temporary networks.”
-From Kevin Kelly – “Out of Control”

Nature is composed of interrelating patterns where the character of living and non-living things is defined by how they relate to other patterns in Nature. These interrelationships are always changing.

Change is the one constant in our life, in our world, and in Nature. Change creates new life. Marylin Price-Michell  notes:

The relationship of the sea to the land is always changing. So are the boundaries between individual groups and organizations. With each wave, a new relationship is born.

Connections in Nature are forever changing. They are never the same from one moment to the next. The dynamic character of the connections between patterns in Nature is why patterns are so complex. Scientists characterize them as  “complex dynamic systems”.

A good illustration of the complex character of the dynamics between and within patterns and connections in Nature that we can actually see is the tidal ebb and flow at El Estero del Soldado – an estuary in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico. The changing relationship between water flow and the muddy bottom of this important lagoon defines its ecology. The interesting and humorous Fiddler Crab occupies the mud at the shoreline. Both predator and prey, he contributes to the changing dynamics of the estuary’s ecological connections at its shoreline. The crab enters his burrow and plugs its entrance with mud as the tide rises. This traps air in the burrow, allowing the crab to breathe. But he engages in intense feeding activity and sediment turnover as the tide ebbs.

Through its activities at the lagoon’s shoreline, the Fiddler Crab is an important regulator of the changing energy connection between water and soil. With their burrowing and feeding, they affect the turnover and processing of nutrients and other chemicals in the sediments. These sediment turnover activities improve the dynamic metabolic processes in estuary sediments through improved oxygenation, drainage, and organic enrichment of the soil surface. Burrowing also results in a significant transport of carbon and phosphorus from buried sediments back to the soil surface. Indeed, the Fiddler Crab drives some of the changing dynamics within the lagoon.

This short time-lapse video portrays the interrelating dynamics of the crab and the shoreline. Look carefully. You will see all of the crabs suddenly disappear at times during low tide.

The activities of other creatures in this lagoon are likewise defined by the dynamic nature of the changing connection between water and land. Most of the foraging activities of the local and migrating birds are defined by the changing tidal flows when fish are running and other nutrients are carried with the water.

The actual dynamic connections that we observe are patterns in Nature but these patterns are not necessarily physical. They could just as easily be behavioral or some form of energy.

Ray Kurzweil makes an important point when he notes that the dynamic connections between and within patterns in Nature are the organizing principles of Nature.

” …the specific set of particles that comprise my body and brain are completely different from the atoms and molecules that comprised me only a short while ago. … most of our cells are turned over in a matter of weeks. Even those that persist longer (e.g., neurons) nonetheless change their component molecules in a matter of weeks… so I am a completely different set of stuff than I was a month ago. All that persists is the pattern of organization of that stuff.”

So, we can say that connections between things in Nature are the organizing principles that bring together patterns in Nature. In Kurzweil’s illustration, the organizational information is stored in our genetic database.

So what!!! — you say. Why should I be interested in the constantly changing interrelationships and movements of patterns in Nature? The answer is that the ecological health of the world we humans live in depends on the dynamic nature of connections in Nature. Changing relationships require awareness and respect. Take, for example, the complex interrelationships between the Salmon, the waters in which it lives,  and humans in the Pacific Northwestern United States.

Garry Peterson, in his paper on the integration of human and ecological dynamics, talks about the connection dynamics of Salmon populations in the Columbia River Basin. He estimates that, in the 18th century, there were some 10 to 16 million Salmon returning annually to the basin. Today, the population is below one million and a quarter of the species have become extinct. The reason for this decline is a human population that has severely altered Nature’s dynamic connections with Salmon by severely reducing the Salmon’s genetic database through over-fishing in the ocean, by constructing dams that interfere with the Salmon’s connection to it’s places of birth , and by radically altering land use along the river.

The impact of the changing human connection with the Salmon population has been devastating. There is a lack of awareness by we humans of how connecting and changing patterns in Nature might destroy a species.
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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

4 Responses to “Dynamic Connections”

  1. Barbara Tapa says:

    I am amazed. How long is the time lapse video? To see thru such clear water and make your findings known, I’m impressed.

  2. @Barbara Tapa
    Hi Barbara: Thanks for your comment. The entire sequence was captured over a three hour period as the tide ebbed. The tidal flow has a significant impact on bird activity in the lagoon. The fish move with the tidal currents and the birds search these currents for the fish. All of this is happening while the crabs do their foraging along the shoreline.

  3. Very well written and researched post. Nature has complex relationships. Wipe out a single thread in the overall connection of things the effects can be absolutely devastating. Keep them coming.

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