Why the Web of Life is Dying...

Could you survive with just half of your organs? Think about it. What if you had just half your brain, one kidney, half of your heart, one lung, half a liver and only half of your skin? It would be pretty hard to survive right? Sure, you could survive losing just one kidney or half of your liver, but at some point, losing pieces from all of your organs would be too much and you would die.

Well, this is exactly what’s happening to the web of life on Planet Earth right now. Like the human body, our planet is a living organism, and like the organs in the body, all of our planet’s species are interconnected. They form the web of life. And, just like the human body can survive with just one kidney or one eye, our planet and the web of life can survive without a few species here and there.

But, like with the loss of organs in the body, there’s eventually a point at which the biological systems of Planet Earth that support human life will just stop functioning if it loses too many species and thus too badly frays the web of life. And that point could be coming a lot sooner than most people thought.

According to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund, a staggering 52% of the world’s mammals, reptiles, birds, fish and amphibians disappeared between 1970 and 2010. We’re not talking about just a few species here and there. After all, species extinctions are normal. They’re part of the web of life, too. But, losing 52% of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians in just 40 years is not normal.

It’s a sign of the devastating toll that human activity is having on our planet and its many ecosystems. And, that 52% statistic doesn’t paint the full picture of what’s really going on here, because every time a species dies off, the web of life unravels just a little more and loses more of its balance.

For example, coyotes and hawks help keep the rabbit population in check. But what if these predators disappeared? Rabbit populations would skyrocket, and that growth would strip the earth bare of green things.

Another great example of balance and interconnectedness in the web of life was laid out by famed biologist Stuart Pimm. Pimm once told a story about how forests in the Pacific Northwest were lacking iodide in their soil, a chemical that’s necessary to keep the trees of those forests alive. Suddenly the forests began to come back, as more and more iodide was being discovered in the forest soil. What had happened?

No one could figure out why this was happening, until a connection was made with none other than bear poop. Basically, some of the dams on the rivers had been torn out, so the bears in the woods were eating the salmon from nearby rivers. Fish are great sources of iodide, as they absorb it from the ocean. The iodide was then transferred from the bears to the forests via bear poop, which helped to fertilize the forests and promote growth.

This is the kind of interconnectedness that drives our planet and the web of life. But, as more and more species continue to die off, our planet is losing this interconnectedness and balance, and the web of life is becoming badly unraveled. Fortunately, there’s still time for us to prevent a complete disaster.

As the World Wildlife Fund report points out, 7.1% of the species losses between 1970 and 2010 were because of climate change. And as climate change continues to rear its ugly head, our planet will lose more and more species.

So, if we want to save our planet and take the web of life off life support, now is the time to get serious about fighting back against the greatest threat our planet and the human race have ever faced. If we put a price on carbon, it will help save an ecosystem that can support human life. Check out www.greenworldrising.org for more information...


mathboy's picture
mathboy 8 years 25 weeks ago

I figured out something interesting about ecology from a mathematical curiosity from astronomy.

Picture the zodiac as a circle broken into arcs. What I wondered was: If you knew only where the midpoints of the arcs were, would you be able to calculate where the dividing points are? It turns out that there's a very simple formula, but it works only if the number of arcs is odd. With an even number of arcs, one degree of freedom is left. That is, if you numbered the dividing points in order, you could move the odd-numbered points clockwise, and the even-numbered points counter-clockwise the same amount, and the solution would still be valid.

The ecological connection is that moving those dividing points, which lengthens some of the arcs and shortens others. is like letting some species get more populous, and others less. If you keep moving those dividing points, eventually one of the arcs reaches zero and a species goes extinct. If a species gets more populous, it eats more of the next species in the circle, so that species gets less populous, eats less of the third species in line, which gets more populous, etc. With an odd number of species, there's a negative feedback loop (pun intended) that stabilizes things, but with an even number of species, there's a positive feedback loop that destabilizes the ecosystem. The longer the loop, the longer it would take to restabilize or destabilize.

Extinction of a species kills the entire loop in both cases, but a single loop is also unrealistic. There's actually a web of species interaction, and if it's rich enough, hopefully every species is in at least one short, odd-numbered loop.

leighmf's picture
leighmf 8 years 25 weeks ago

Plants do not eat other plants, except in cases of parasitic molds, smuts, rusts, and fungi which may cause the decline and eventual death of a plant. Yet, everything depends on plants. Plants provide the food for birds, insects, bacteria, terrestrial and aquatic animals, while essentially manufacturing their own food.

The development of an ecosystem is wholly dependent on species ability to exploit nutrients. In a challenged or specialized ecosystem, the survivors are the most successful exploiters, and so are those species which can adapt to a specialized niche where exploiters can't survive and competitors are excluded. An example of a niche species would be Borreria terminalis, which will only grow in holes of limestone- based pine woods at a specific elevation.

Only a Climax Community is stable, and nature maintains these with cycles of fire, wind, freezes, droughts, and flooding which ultimately trigger the germination of other species of dormant seeds. Species diversity is the hallmark of a stable ecosystem but climatic events can cause shifts in species composition, not necessarily diversity.

The loss of species worldwide is attributed more than anything to habitat destruction. Niche species are the first to technically become locally extinct when land has been cleared and altered. Species diversity takes a very long, if not undetermined length of time to return where a Climax Community once existed.

Once land has been altered or disturbed, what are considered "noxious species" will colonize open ground swiftly. Noxious species are extremely successful exploiters of disturbed habitats, excluding other plant life to form monocultures. A monoculture has no species diversity.

Environmental restoration theory and technique advanced immensely since the discovery of DDT in birdshells in 1970, and many scientists have known what to do all along.

There is a big conflict in environmental restoration in that the Big Money goes to engineering plans while the ecologists are not only stuck with non-biological plans, but all the responsibility, for Walmart pay. In my career I have seen millions of dollars wasted on failed environmental restorations whose contracts were awarded to wholly unqualified start-up companies that belong to financiers and worse.

You can slice, dice, and arc it any way you like, but only ecosystem trained specialists should be entrusted with the lion's share of funds designated for management of an environmental impact and/or restoration.

Why hire an engineer to do the job of a biologist?

As for our own little corners of the world, plant more trees! Forever echoing in my ear is Ladybird Johnson's Texas drawl, "And wherever you see a place of ugly, just plant a Bush, tree, or a shrub."

Elioflight's picture
Elioflight 8 years 25 weeks ago

I am currently reading Dan Brown's Inferno, which addresses the problem of over-population, which I feel is the engine for the mulitude of problems we are now forced to deal with. When an organism outgrows its environment, it must move or parish--humans are the cancer on planet Earth.

Why can't we come to a consensus about controlling human population? The medical technology exists--sterlization--insurance pays for it; you don't have to worry about birth control; and, of course, there are other methods of continual until menopause (but maybe an oops happens) birth control.

In agreement with my husband, I was sterlized after my son was born in my twenties. We also have a daughter. Both children have 1 child and intent to have NO more. But we are a college-educated family. Having no more children than our early stuggling family could afford has lead to a less-troubled married life, very few money problems, and a 36-year marriage, when all our other family and friends have gone the way of divorce.

I recently planted a Dawn Redwood in our forest, but we are hasseled all the time from the farmers who have tile across our property and try to bully us into NOT planting trees and are asking constantly to pull down our fencerow. Since we have been losing Ash trees to the Emerald Ash Borer (but new Ash trees sprout continually and never give up), I've been gathering White Oak acorns from a tree in the yard and throwing them in the fencerow so that mighty oaks can join the equally mighty Scrub Oaks.

I plant trees to stand in defiance of those who want their extra row of soybeans and corn for selfish profit: I'm an Underwood, afterall, what else can I do?

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 8 years 25 weeks ago

Elioflight: Vasectomies for men work very well, too. In fact, it is just a local anesthetic and a little snip snip and a couple of stitches in the doctor's office and the guy is out the door to do no more damage to the world. And I hear that the procedure is now reversible in the event they want more children later on.

Elioflight's picture
Elioflight 8 years 25 weeks ago

LOL! Yes, vasectomies are good, too, when men want to cooperate, which can be a problem. I, for sure, was the one who never wanted any more occupants in my womb or to worry about the politics of birth control. We wanted to make the CHOICE about family size, which we were critcized for (from the pulpit one Sunday) while members of the Catholic church--needless to say, we are no longer church/religion affiliated and are much happier for it.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 8 years 25 weeks ago

I did a blog a few months ago, in which I showed graphs of species extinctions, human population, CO2 levels and temperature. The correspondence among these is very clear, and so disturbing that I think most people would rather just not think about it, tragically.

leighmf's picture
leighmf 8 years 25 weeks ago

Elioflight- It is best to plant the oaks since the newly sprouting ash may live for a while but will eventually succumb to the ash borers if they are there to stay.

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