Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Ultimate Networking

      Before the “green” revolution caught on, “ecology” was a hot subject. According to Wikipedia, ecology is defined as “the interdisciplinary scientific study of the distributions, abundance and relations of organisms and their interactions with the environment.” It includes the study of ecosystems: “the web or network of relations among organisms at different scales of organization.” Since ecology refers to any form of biodiversity, ecologists research everything from tiny bacteria's role in nutrient recycling to the effects of tropical rain forest on the Earth's atmosphere
      The subject today is conservationism, as distinguished from conservatism. Although I will be using a quote from Charles Darwin, it is strictly an illustration of ecology in action; it has nothing whatsoever to do with evolution. If you are a creationist, please bear with me.
      Anticipating the science of ecology by a hundred years, Darwin wrote:

…but humble-bees alone visit the common red clover…as other bees cannot reach the nectar. Hence I have very little doubt, that if the whole genus of humble-bees became extinct or very rare in England, the heartsease and red clover would become very rare, or wholly disappear. The number of humble-bees in any district depends in a great degree on the number of field-mice, which destroy their combs and nests; and Mr. H. Newman, who has long attended to the habits of humble-bees, believes that ‘more than two thirds of them are destroyed all over England.’ Now the number of mice is largely dependent, as every one knows, on the number of cats; and Mr. Newman says, ‘Near villages and small towns I have found the nests of humble-bees more numerous than elsewhere, which I attribute to the number of cats that destroy the mice.’ Hence it is quite credible that the presence of the feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of certain flowers in that district!
      In short, the number of flowers is dependent upon the availability of instincts and actions of humble-bees, field-mice and cats. A beautiful example of ecology in action.
      We need to be reminded occasionally of the importance of the interactions of species. A major example is that of pollination by honey bees. Again according to Wikipedia, “The largest managed pollination event in the world is in Californian almond orchards, where nearly half (about one million hives) of the US honey bees are trucked to the almond orchards each spring. New York's apple crop requires about 30,000 hives; Maine's blueberry crop uses about 50,000 hives each year. Bees are also brought to commercial plantings of cucumbers, squash, melons, strawberries, and many other crops.”
      And there are countless numbers of such interactions in nature about which we know little or nothing. In the event we ever get around to doing anything tangible about climate change, let’s be careful. It would be easy to throw out the ecological baby with the global warming bath water.

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