Why we can – and MUST – create new Adaptive Ecologies

I’ve written before on the subject of adaptive landscapes and trans-migrational landscapes but I’ve been reading recently of a real-life ecology that was created by man in the last 200 years, and is thriving.  This is on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, a once barren volcanic rock, which is now a thriving cloud forest, created in a somewhat uncoordinated way by successive generations of British sailors and governors bringing plants from all over the world.  Where there were once just 25 species, there are now over 200, as this article tells.

Non-native bamboo and moss create homes for native ferns

Non-native bamboo and moss create homes for native ferns.  photo Fred Pearce.

Whilst this example may be a one-off, it is nonetheless a hopeful sign. If new and thriving ecologies can be created with little real thought and science, it gives hope for what we can do if we put our minds to it.

In my previous articles mentioned above, I outlined the reasons why this is necessary. To recap, it is due to the planetary changes that are now occurring, whose effects we have yet to fully experience, which is going to change this planet for millennia to come, even if we get a grip on carbon emissions, which we must of course do. If we don’t, runaway climate change could make this planet largely uninhabitable (at least to higher life forms). Ecologist have to radically re-think what they consider to be ecology, for Nature cannot adapt the landscape at the rate of our man-induced changes. That means that species cannot adapt and move with the shifting geological region of the climate zone they are used to. Zones are moving North and South, away from the equator at a rate which may change 20% of the world’s climate zones by the end of the century.

Of course, Nature will correct things given time, but mankind cannot afford to wait, if it wants a planet worth living on – and the ability to live on it.  That’s why the Ascension Island story is such good news.  I would dare bet that we could extensively re-vegetate (or terraform, to use a word found in science fiction stories) areas within a 50 year period if we turned our minds to it, and our political will.

Ironically, I can see some of the stiffest opposition to this coming from conservationists. Much is made of the negative effects of the global migration of plants and insects, but we have to balance that with the positive gains, which are seldom mentioned, yet so taken for granted.  And the planet is going to change now, whether we want it to or not.  I’d rather the UK (for example) had a Mediterranean flora and fauna than none at all.  We may one day grieve the loss of our native oaks, finally unable to cope with the higher temperatures, but we would surely welcome the holm oak (already naturalising in the South coast area), cork oak and olive here.  Having an ecology of beauty and abundance is what counts now, not preserving what we are used to having.  Get used to that; it’s already too late.

But new adaptive ecologies, created by transferring plants, insects and microbes from other similar zones in the world, would give us a new practice, that of trans-migrating landscapes, and a new science, a new understanding.  In this we must learn not to manipulate, but to understand Nature, to assist in what she would herself do, but over millennea.  And we must do it within a lifetime.

Best get started…

August 28th, 2013 by