Nature Changes On Her Own Terms

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. Life on earth is interconnected and interdependent because each plant and animal requires life’s energy flow that comes from the sun or other plants and animals. This fundamental truth about Nature is ignored by many humans who believe that mankind, and his technology, can control Nature. Much of modern conservation science implies that mankind can manipulate Nature. The fallacy of this thinking becomes apparent when one realizes that Nature controls us. We do not control Nature. Nature can live without humans but humans cannot live without Nature.

One of Nature’s phenomena that demonstrate that She is in control is “ecological succession”. Ecological succession is a scientific term that describes the process of change that happens to an ecological community over time. Succession is based on the fact that nothing in life ever remains the same. All habitats are always in some process of change that are caused by external unpredictable events such as climate change, fire, parasitic insects, volcanic activity, human or naturally caused habitat fragmentation or anything else that would interrupt the natural succession of species in an ecosystem. The resulting succession could have some component of predictability. But that so-called predictability is coupled with results that come from the unpredictability of the driving force of ecological succession.

Penn State University offers a wonderful metaphor that defines ecological succession at all scales.

 “Ecological succession is a force of nature. Ecosystems, because of the internal species dynamics and external forces, are in a constant process of change and re-structuring …one only has to visualize a freshly tilled garden plot. Clearing the land for the garden and preparing the soil for planting represents a major external event that radically re-structures and disrupts a previously stabilized ecosystem. The disturbed ecosystem will immediately begin a process of ecological succession. Plant species adapted to the sunny conditions and the broken soil will rapidly invade the site and will become quickly and densely established. These invading plants are what we call “weeds”. Now “weeds” have very important ecological roles and functions, but weeds also compete with the garden plants for nutrients, water and physical space. If left unattended, a garden will quickly become a weed patch in which the weakly competitive garden plants are choked out and destroyed by the robustly productive weeds. A gardener’s only course of action is to spend a great deal of time and energy weeding the garden.”

This quote defines the process of ecological succession. The gardener’s energy in weeding the garden metaphorically portrays conservation programs whose purpose is to reverse the process of Nature’s succession. While Nature tries to follow its own course, mankind tries to conform Nature to the needs of mankind.

Modern science often paints a picture of ecological succession as being predictable. By ignoring the unpredictable causes and results, analysis is made easier. A good example is forest succession where we are offered illustrations of the various stages in the development or redevelopment of forests. These pictures are misleading because it is impossible to illustrate the impact of unpredictable random driving environmental forces that originate outside of the forest environment but eventually impact the forest.

The real world  of ecological succession offers proof that Nature will change on Her own terms. This is an extremely important point because ecological succession portrays Nature’s unpredictability in the face of mankind’s conservation programs that assume that much of Nature lives in a steady state. In fact, many conservation programs are based on the idea of trying to prevent changes in Nature – an impossible task. But, the truth is that no ecosystem  will exist unchanged over time. With or without mankind, change is normal in Nature. In the world of ecology, the only constant is change.

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 “Nature Changes On Her Own Terms”

  1. Melissa Cruz says:

    I agree with you Mr. Bill, we need from nature to keep us alive. Nature is on constant changing, we should adapt to it instead of adapting nature to us, because the human race depend from nature to keep developing new technologies, but first we need to be aware that we can’t control nature.

  2. Hi Melissa: Thanks for your reply. You are absolutely correct and I agree with you completely. I hope that you are doing well. I am very proud of you!!!!!

  3. Sylvia says:

    Thank you for this clear explanation of the process of change in nature. Regards.

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