This past summer I was presented with an interesting perspective that I had never considered before.
I spent a week in June interning for Barrington Area Conservation Trust, learning about a prairie that they are restoring.
Navraaz Basati from Barrington Area Conservation Trust (BACT) told the other interns and I that “nature is never balanced” and that it’s in a constant state of what she called “biodynamic growth.”
That was a new concept for me. It made me rethink a statement I made in my last post, “World Environment Day,” about my backyard environment: “It’s a beautiful system that regenerates and balances itself.”
I think people commonly say nature has a balance when referring to humans disrupting that balance. I always thought of different parts of an ecosystem sitting on a fragile scale, and removing just one piece could make the whole scale tip over.
In this way, it’s true that diverse and specific components are necessary to keep an ecosystem healthy, and that moving one piece can trigger a damaging domino effect. This could happen when one keystone species goes extinct, or if an invasive species is introduced.
What Raaz meant is that in a flourishing ecosystem, the competition is constant. Every single plant is constantly competing for space. When I went back to the prairie two weeks ago, it looked different than it did in June, because things are constantly changing and growing.
The competitive nature of a thriving ecosystem creates a perpetual state of imbalance. Balance implies stagnancy, and nature is not stagnant. The imbalance provides opportunity for biodynamic growth.
The plants’ roots are working the soil, moving nutrients around. Thousands of insects are fighting to stay alive long enough to reproduce. Birds fight over space. Small mammals dig new burrows. The entire prairie must adapt to drought, but if it suddenly rains a lot, the prairie could look different as the water-loving plants finally overpower some drought-resilient plants that have thrived all summer.
It’s a dynamic, growing system.
This post isn’t an endorsement of either view, it’s just food for thought. I think it’s a fascinating new way to view nature, and something to consider the next time you’re out enjoying the great outdoors. Keep an eye out for the competition: Which plants are thriving? Which are merely existing? And where do you see biodynamic growth creating a change in your environment?
Other fun facts I learned from BACT:
- European buckthorn (an invasive species) is allelopathic, which makes its berries poisonous to birds and its presence harmful to amphibians.
- The walnut tree (a native species) is also allelopathic! It produces a chemical called juglone that discourages many types of plants from growing near it.
- Oak trees and birch trees communicate with other trees/plants through their roots! They can recognize the nutritional needs of others and send nutrients to them through the mycorrhiza — a symbiotic relationship between trees & fungi — on their roots.
- Have you ever seen a plant with a perfect little circular hole cut into the middle of its leaf? Leaf-cutter bees cut those circles of leaf to place near their eggs, so the larvae will have something to eat when they hatch.