Good summary of top-predator ecology and some thoughts on its implications

Although I live in the business world now, my education was in biology – and I find the concepts of ecology and genetics surprisingly applicable to the world of business.  Both on the broad perspective of companies as consumers and producers competing for space in an environment, as well as the genes that make a company good moving about (in the form of practices learned, ideas and people who transfer from one company to another).  That said, I found a good short summary article today I’d like to share.

It might seem simplistic, to say that the absence of a top predator has far-reaching consequences on the entire ecosystem in which it lives, but for wildlife management, it is a previously-unrecognized issue.

For instance, the re-introduction of wolves into Yosemite, where elk comprise their primary food source, has resulted in the resurgence of the aspen tree there – since fewer elk (or possibly more cautious ones) don’t go wandering around aimlessly eating all the young trees.  The presence of more trees leads to more nesting ground for birds, more living space for insects, more things that eat the insects, and so on and on.  Ergo, the wolf has a long “arm” within its environment.

Same goes for the sea otter (in that article linked above).  In fact, it would seem, same goes for any form of predator in the ecosystem.

I’d go so far as to say most, if not all, organisms in general have a long reach within their environs like this.  For instance, pull mosquitoes out of the Siberian tundra, and you’ll have enormous boosts in the caribou population, which means vegetation gets decimated, which means erosion of soil and loss of habitat, etc. etc.  We’re already seeing effects of this with the change in climate – because of warmer summers coming earlier, some flowers are blooming earlier.  But the pollinators (bees, other insects, birds, etc.) might not be prepped for them that soon – and so what happens is that the flowers come and go, but they don’t get pollinated.  And they don’t make seeds.  So we potentially lose the plant, and whatever else depended on it.

This is serious business, life is.  It’s also a mess – everything touches everything else, and a stone dropped in the pool at one end has extremely unpredictable ripples that might just drain the whole thing.  Which is why scientists are really, really worried about climate change.  In the United States, the vast majority of our food supply relies on something like a total of 15 different organisms.  15.  Those fifteen species (such as wheat, corn, cows, chickens, etc.) feed 300+ million people.  The common honeybee – which is experiencing a population crash due to mite and viral infection (which are easily spread among hives when they are placed close to one another, as they are when transported around the country in trucks and stacked next to each other in orchards or fields), combined with weakened defenses courtesy of pesticides – is responsible for up to 25% of our agricultural productivity.  Seafood – much of which is headed for a mass-extinction event – feeds a great many more of us.

So what happens when the arctic ice cap goes away?  All the life in the polar region gets disrupted, just as if you cut down the entire Brazilian rain forest.  All the potential discoveries in that biosphere (such as new medicines, food supplies, ‘how things work’ and their resulting implications for our own bodies, etc.) go away.  Much of the food stocks that we could have used go away.  Worse still, things we don’t want might/will show up – pestilent forms of life, a large dark spot on the top of the world that absorbs heat and energy rather than reflecting it back into space, methane clathrate eruptions, etc.  Your “Ice Road Truckers” show comes to an abrupt end.

This is why you get scientists telling you about this stuff decades in advance.  Because they know, you drop this stone here, and where the ripples rock the boat in unexpected ways – it’s anyone’s guess.

And in a world that has evolved us to exist in a pretty narrow set of environmental confines, rocking the boat isn’t such a hot idea.  Because if it turns over, we all pay.  Especially our kids.

Speaking of which, having watched Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” series recently, I find it sad that here we are, thirty years after scientists sounded enough warning alarms over climate change to have it spread widely enough that it was a common issue then, that we still have a battery of – pardon my rough language – fucking morons who still think there’s some debate going on about it.  Idiots who think politics is some kind of Bears/Packers rivalry and that it ends with the SuperBowl of the presidential election.  Fuckwits who think that their team is the only legitimate answer, even when it is demonstrably fraudulent and criminal.  Which is the primary reason why I think at this stage deniers of climate change should be politically sterilized – disenfranchised.  Anyone who can look at the evidence around them and still cling to their “my team says it doesn’t exist, so it’s not real, it’s all a political hoax” deserves at best to lose their right to vote.  At worst, they just deserve to be shot.

Because in the end, it’s their vapid and rabid team-spirit that has killed us all.




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