A clock with loose spring keeps poor time: Innovation is key to the survival of our society, Pt. 8

This will be the last point of this section, before shifting to more of an opinion based look into the future human practices. Thus far, I’ve ventured from land, to wetland and then out to sea, but now I want to look at change as a whole. As most people would be aware, many species rely on environmental cues as part of their yearly cycle. This is everything from first bloom or chrysalis to a migration that spans many thousands of kilometres. In all ecosystems, there are many services that are provided by a species to other species which is paramount for the receiving species fitness if not local persistence, which includes nutrient, mineral and energy transfer (Traill et al. 2010). In extreme examples this is called symbiosis; where the relationship can be complex, resulting from a long co-evolutionary relationship (Hill, 2009). There are interactions that involve these environmental cues (eg. pollination, migration) that human activity is benefited by (Traill et at; 2010).

As was highlighted in part 4, there is a noticeable global warming trend, which should be evident in a change in species response to a change in timing of these cues.

Response to change

Rosenzweig et al. (2009) looked at data sets from more than 28,800 biological and 829 physical systems with collections from 1970 to 2004 and found that around 90% of  changes observed in the former  group and 95% of changes in the latter group were, at a global scale, the expected result due to global warming. Of the ~80 studies (>29,500 data sets), only 3 studies (9 data sets in 4 cells) showed that the results are due to other anthropogenic drivers (ie. land use changes, harvest and pollution) (Rosenzweig et al. 2009). Rosenzweig et al. (2009) also state that it is highly likely (>90% probability) that the observed warming is the result of anthropogenic modified greenhouse gas concentrations.

A similar study was carried out in the UK by Amano et al. (2010), where data of first bloom from 405 plant species, spanning 250 years was analysed. This study showed an average 5 days earlier of flowering for every 1 degree C increase (Amano et al. 2010).

As different species will react to different cues, such as climate cues (eg. ice melt, rainfall changes and temperature) or non-climate cue (day length), it can be argued that as climate changes increase, inter-species relationships will be stressed due to shifts in timing (Brook, 2009). The greater the reliance of a species on another on a lower trophic level would determine the need to respond as peaks of that food supply shift due to climate change (Brook, 2009).

Failure to meet this change, as with all those previously discussed, would reduce fitness and lead to a reduction of biodiversity. Where it is generally believed that ecosystems are more resilient to shock when biodiversity, or at least key species are maintained (Fischer et al. 2006), all that has been discussed in previous chapters has demonstrated potential for species loss, thus exacerbating degradation of those ecosystems and certainly causing detrimental impacts on other systems that rely on those services – including our own species (Traill, et al. 2010).

Indeed, what I notice on the road already is more opportunistic farming (many farmers following the recent big rains) and a change in crops (mostly a removal of vineyards). As much as 60% of crops rely on natural pollination, not to mention the vast amount of soil conditioning and pest control and other services provided by the local ecosystem (Traill et al. 2010), it seems naïve to me to assume such opportunistic farming can remain viable under both a continuous loss of biodiversity and changing climate.

This brief example of farming is in essence my reason for writing this collection. In far too many ways, our species has developed quicker and more efficient ways to achieve the results of work. This has lead to a society unimaginable several generations ago. It has lead to an average standard of living greater than that ever known before and without a doubt has increased our potential to ever greater heights. This has, however, caused a nasty side-effect of an entirely new form of ignorance and certainly elements of gluttony.

I don’t wish to harp on, like some Tolkien nightmare of the machine, for I am happy with what we have created and that it will give my son opportunities that his ancestors, who landed in South Australia in the 1870’s, could never of dreamed of in their comparably harsh venture to establish this place as a state. On the other hand, they saw species on their plot that my son will never see. As much as we have come along way, especially over the past two centuries, we’ve also forgotten our roots and humility for a much wider world than just the cities that we have built. On a much more modern note; the more that we understand ecology and biological properties, the more we will be able to exploit such services at a reduction of economic outlay and energy. It is likely that the answers to many diseases and food source issues will be resolved through such understand, but this will be remain a decreasing likelihood as species loss and climate change continue to be ignored.

Traill, L. W., Lim, M. L. M., Sodhi N. S., Bradshaw, C. J. A. (2010) Mechanisms driving change: altered species interactions and ecosystem function through global warming. Journal of Animal Ecology. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2656.2010.01695.x
Hill, D. J. (2009) Asymmetric Co-evolution in the Lichen Symbiosis Casued by a Limited Capacity for Adaptation in the Photobiont. Biological Review. 75:326-338. doi: 10.1007/s12229-009-9028-x
Rosenzweig, C., Karoly, D., Vicarelli, M., Neofotis, P., Wu, Q., Casassa, G., Menzel, A., Root, T. L., Estrella, N., Seguin, B., Tryjanowski, P., Liu, C., Rawlins, S., and, Imeson, A. (2008) Attributing physical and biological impacts to anthropogenic climate change. Nature. 453(15):353-357. doi:10.1038/nature06937
Amano, T., Smithers, R. J., Sparks. T. H., and, Sutherland, W. J. (2010) A 250-year index of first flowering dates and its response to temperature change. Proc. R. Soc. B. doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.0291
Brook, B. (2009) In focus: Global warming tugs at trophic interactions. Journal of animal ecology. 78:1-3. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2008.01490.x

2 thoughts on “A clock with loose spring keeps poor time: Innovation is key to the survival of our society, Pt. 8

  1. Solid series so far, Tim. You were also quite temperate in your responses to Peter! When read all as a series, it’s not a very optimistic picture you paint: I covered most of those topics in my degree, but getting a reminder of them all was a bit of a jolt!

    There seems to be an increasing school of thought in ecology (from my toe-dip in the pond via friends in my faculty who are ecologists) of moving away from the idea of preservation of systems as they have been historically, to preservation of ecosystem services. It’s not really a new idea but its uptake is inevitable. Change in an already-stressed, complex environment is what we’re going to be dealing with. Environmental managers face a tough job.


    1. lol.. I guess I’m temperate in nature. My belief is that the evidence should speak for itself and if it can’t, it’s ideology. I have little time for ideology and politics (I’m often told I’m too black and white, but I can tell by following your blog that you’re another that the world is more than amazing in it’s own right that you don’t need to obsess too much on the grey).
      I guess the first half of this seems quite bleak. But when you look into it, we’ve come a long way – mostly on inefficient technology and an increasing lack of appreciation of natural services (and a lot of ecological loss as a result). It’s definitely impractical to think we can get the smog out of our energy supply in the near future, but we can certainly make a dint and lead to massive reductions. We can also do a lot to protect systems as they currently are and we can be a lot more creative and innovative that we currently are.
      But to do so will first require a proper report card of where we stand (ie. this first section) and to accept the state and road forward. This mindless debate over AGW and the sliding polls just demonstrates that we’re idly sitting back and remaining inactive / lazy at a time where we could make the most headway for change in practices.
      I think I’m also not debating so much with Pete etc. because I feel I’m always repeating myself. If I write it all out and provide the facts as well as an optimistic look into the coming decades I’ll prove my point clear enough 🙂
      It would be great to get back into photography again (your work has made me wonder why I stopped! lol)


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