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Green Landscaping: Greenacres
Wild Ones Handbook
ALL THE LIFE THERE IS
The Diversity of Life
"Nature, in her blind search for life, has filled every possible cranny of the Earth with some sort of fantastic creature." -
Reprinted by permission of the author
The creation of biodiversity came slow and hard: 3 billion years of evolution to start the profusion of animals that occupy the seas, another 350 million years to assemble the rain forests in which half or more of the species on Earth now live. Life had stalled on plateaus along the way, and on five occasions it suffered extinction spasms that took 10 million years to repair. But the thrust was upward. Today the diversity of life is greater than it was a 100 million years ago - and far greater than 500 million years before that.
The modern fauna and flora are composed of survivors that somehow managed to dodge and weave through all the radiations and extinctions of geological history. All living species are direct descendants of the organisms that lived 3.8 billion years ago. They are living genetic libraries which record evolutionary events all across that immense span of time.
Scoop out a plant, shake the soil from the roots into the cupped hand, magnify it for close examination. The black Earth is alive with a riot of algae, fungi, nematodes, mites, springtails, enchytraeid worms, thousands of species of bacteria. The handful may be only a tiny fragment of one ecosystem, but because of the genetic codes of its residents it holds more order than can be found on the surfaces of all the other planets of our solar system combined. It is a sample of the living force that runs the Earth - and will continue to do so with or without us.
Now is the time to get on the great Linnean enterprise and finish mapping the biosphere. Species are disappearing at an accelerating rate through human action, primarily habitat destruction, but also pollution and the introduction of exotic species to residual natural environments.
Why should we care? Vast potential biological wealth will be destroyed. In amnesiac revery it is easy to overlook the services that ecosystems provide humanity. They enrich the soil and create the very air we breathe. The life-sustaining matrix is built of green plants with legions of microorganisms and mostly small, obscure animals - in other words, weeds and bugs. They run the world precisely as we would wish it to be run.
by Joyce Powers
CRM Ecosystems/Prairie Ridge Nursery
Biological diversity refers to the number of different life forms co-existing in an ecosystem. Ecologists know that the more different kinds of organisms that can co-exist in a system, the more stable or resilient that system is. The concept of a web is often used to explain why this is so.
Picture a spider's web with its complex interconnections. Suppose that each connection point is a separate life form or species and the strands connecting them are their interactions with one another. Clearly, the more points of connection or intersections within the web, the stronger it is. Further, when some event occurs that destroys a point of connection or even a small section of the web, the whole web does not collapse. However, imagine that one-half of the connection points are destroyed, without tearing the fabric of the web, just decreasing the interconnections. The web becomes noticeably more fragile. The next accidental event may destroy it completely.
The metaphor of the spider's web is, of course, just that - a metaphor. It does not take into account the energy-exchange systems and constant flux that all ecosystems embody. Even if our only interest is in self-preservation, all species have value because they strengthen the web of which we are a part.
The more different kinds of plants we can restore, the more different types of birds, butterflies and small mammals can live on the land. And the more different life forms we can keep with us on this planet, the better the chances that we, our children and their children will not only survive, but live in a balanced and beautiful world.