VIEW ON NATURE: The Web of Life
By: S. Wendt
What comes to mind when we think of “Nature”? Being outdoors? A walk in the woods or mountains? Autumn foliage, flowers, maybe a spotted fawn? To each of us, Nature can mean many things, often pleasant, welcoming environments as seen on those wonderful Nature television channels. But for Nature to function, there are constant give and takes. Think food chain, survival of the fittest, predators and prey.
All of Nature is linked together through food chains. A food chain is the sequence of who eats whom in a biological community (an ecosystem). Almost every food chain starts with our primary energy source, the sun, and photosynthetic plants that are eaten by “consumers” (like rabbits and deer), who are eaten by predators (foxes, wolves, hawks), and end with detritus feeders like earthworms and slugs, or decomposers like mushrooms or bacteria. All species, big and small -- plant, animal, fungi, invertebrates, bacteria and humans -- are in the food chain and will be eaten by someone else.
So a sun-loving white oak tree produces acorns which are eaten by chipmunks that are swallowed by black rat snakes that barred owls share with their owlets whose droppings are eaten by dung beetles who become meals for blue jays, five-lined skink lizards, grackles, toads and snakes. Whew! And just when this starts to make sense, many species play multiple roles in the web like bears which eat acorns, chipmunks, and snakes.
All living things fit into complex food webs which act as Nature’s balancing scales. Too much of one (multiplying rabbits) eventually results in more of another (hungry foxes). Although there is competition, there is also interdependence. One species going extinct can affect and even upset an entire chain of other species. Nature strives for coexistence. However, natural forces (forest fires, floods) and now manmade forces (pollution, introduction of invasive species) disrupt the balance. But as long as these disruptions aren’t too severe, Nature will recover with each species pulling on the “web of life” toward getting it back in balance. Oh what a complicated web Mother Nature has woven!
This reminds me of a reported excerpt from what has been often described as one of the most beautiful, prophetic statements on ecological responsibility ever made [by Chief Sealth’s (aka Chief Seattle’s) reply in 1854 to President Franklin Pierce’s offer to buy 2 million acres of tribal land:
“If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? … All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself”
So, move gingerly within the web.
This story can be read in full along with other history stories in the ENDEAVOR News Magazine at www.annandalechamber.com/theendeavor.rhtml
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