My two previous posts, Visualizing Connections In Nature and The Architecture of Biodiversity, described Nature as a highly interconnected network of life where the energy that is necessary to live is passed from one organism to the next. These networks, called food webs, imply an equilibrium that could be disturbed by change resulting from mankind’s uninformed interference.
Nature can change all by herself without the hand of man.
While this picture is true, it is incomplete. The fact is that Nature undergoes many changes all by herself without the hand of man. For Nature, change is a normal thing !! These natural changes can affect food webs. But, for mankind to try to change Nature, either intentionally or in error, is destructive. In this blog post, I will describe why change is normal in Nature but destructive by man.
Change in Nature can come from species activities or interactions within a food web or from environmental changes that impact the functioning of a food web. For example, a storm can wreak all sorts of havoc in an ecosystem.
Organisms eating each other are only one of many important interactions among
species. Other types of interaction between species include habitat modification and predator interference induced by fear of being eaten. These “other” types of interactions are called “non-trophic” interactions. Non-trophic means that creature interactions are not directly related to food energy flow between species. Instead they evolve from the impact of one or more species on the environment or the impact of the environment on species within an ecosystem.
Ecosystems are in a constant dance as their components compete, react, evolve, migrate, and form new communities. Geological upheaval, evolution, climatic cycles, fires, storms, and population dynamics see to it that Nature is always changing. On Hawaii, volcanic activity wipes the slate clean on any given slope every few hundred years. Occasional new arrivals to the islands, washed ashore or drifting in on the wind, adapt to their new home and find space for themselves within existing ecosystems.
In a scientific paper titled “More Than A Meal – Integrating Non-Feeding Interactions Into Food Webs” , the authors do a good job in describing natural changes in Nature that do not involve mankind. Here is a paraphrased description:
” there is a great diversity of non-trophic interactions observed in nature. Kelp forests provide habitat for the survival of many species, desert shrubs buffer environmental stress and facilitate the persistence of other plant species and many species engage in antagonistic interactions to defend their territories . Some non-trophic interactions are closely associated with feeding activities but affect species that are neither the trophic consumer nor the resource. For instance, whales, rays, sea otters, birds and many other large consumers dig, burrow, turn rocks or sieve sediment while feeding, negatively or positively affecting many other species. Other interactions inherently involve a trophic and a non-trophic component between the same pair of species, such as pollination and fruit eating. A functionally important class of non-trophic interactions is ecosystem engineering by earthworms or beavers which directly or indirectly control the availability of resources to other organisms by causing physical state changes in living or non-living materials . This activity determines the structure and fate of entire communities . The consequences of these non-trophic interactions are as diverse as affecting the ability and efficiency of feeding, survival, behavior, recruitment success and reproduction. In ecosystems, the entangled bank of species involves feeding as well as a myriad of non-trophic interactions which have long been recognised, but yet have hardly been studied in concert with trophic interactions in multi-species systems.”
All of the non-trophic factors just described affect and change the food web interactions that appear to be in equilibrium when one examines a static food web diagram. These non-trophic factors contribute to the chaotic states that exist in Nature’s ecosystems. These non-trophic influences help explain why ecosystems are complex, chaotic, and unpredictable. This means that any activities or changes imposed by mankind are folly because their outcomes are unpredictable.
Changes made by Nature prevent any successful predictIons made by mankind.
So, one can say that the normal, but random, changes that Nature imposes upon herself prevent any predictable success from changes made by mankind. Therefore, man cannot control Nature. For example, the culling of wildlife, such as predators, based on “calculations” of ideal population levels is a practice that doesn’t work. There are too many non-trophic factors at play to permit a predictable result. The human induced application of pesticides (a change imposed by man’s “logic”) has severely affected the bee populations who are important plant pollinators. Again, results were not predictable even though man thought that he could successfully make a change to Nature.
Letting Nature take her own course, including the changes that she makes, may not suit some of we humans, but it is the only option that we have.
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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.