Ecology in Space: The Human Island (Chapter 9)

Taking a quick look at the Windows wallpapers that my computer came with, I counted 17 that were landscape or plant orientated. On the pin-up board in my office, a number of postcard-sized professional photographs of various natural scenes have been pinned up for who knows how long. When the weight of my particular circumstances seems too much, the relief I find when strolling along the beach, listening to a babbling creek that feeds one of the local waterfalls, or the quiet I find deep in the mallee of my monitoring site is quite indescribable.

I know that I am not alone with this sensation either.

Even those who have developed a form of ‘natural place agoraphobia’ from living a hermit-like existence in human habitats feel the same sensation from photography and even more so, when they have a close encounter with a wild, yet placid animal. Arguably, it is one of the more successful visualisations in vehicle and new development advertising – the golden sunset, the tranquillity of a pristine area and (quite paradoxically) the item for sale.

In a recent paper by Fischer et al [9], they found that many graziers were no different and had strong emotional connections to remnant woodland trees that persisted on their land.

Where Jacaranda, plane trees or other species have been used well to line urban streets, the whole feeling of the area changes and gives a constant reminder of how dynamic and beautiful the world really is in these built up regions that may otherwise seem dull and unchanging.

Even NASA has been experimenting with plants on the International Space Station for future long mission into deeper space, not only for the benefits the plants provide to life support systems, but also for the mental wellbeing of the human crew.

It’s simply overwhelmingly clear that biodiversity does more than just provide beneficial work, it also recharges our core and is wonderfully uplifting. We have, from the first beasts depicted in the earliest known cave paintings, to the development of religions and more recently the biological sciences, worshipped and appreciated the majesty of the natural, living world.

What we risk in extinction and land degradation is also deeply cultural; ecosystems are part of our social identity.

It pains me to watch, for instance, the old black and white movies of the last thylacines in captivity. As a child, I held a secret wish to have had my own thylacine – a stripy native dog, as I saw it. To this day, I’m a little too eager when I hear of possible sightings in Tasmania.

I was thrilled when I learnt of the rediscovery of the pygmy blue tongue lizard – a species found only in one region within 100kms of where I live.

I remember being moved when I saw Cooroboree frogs that where part of a breeding program in the Melbourne zoo, following bushfires that devastated their natural range.

Likewise, I feel that the people of New Zealand should rejoice in the existence of a unique local; the living fossil, the Tuatara, or wonder what the landscape would have been like, had the various Moa survived following human colonisation.

Around the world, whether it is a massive oak, an extraordinary bird call with the sunrise, the sweet blossom in the afternoon air or numerous species working as part of their unique ecosystem; we all associate our place on the Earth with the ecology that makes it different to anywhere else. Nowhere is it more obvious than among the Mount Lofty ranges, parts of Victoria and Tasmania where settlers tried to replicate what they had left behind. Home is where you local ecosystem is. We have always identified ourselves with our land.

So much so is this the reality, that tomorrows astronauts will be farmers. They will leave the Earth and green wherever they stay. Where humanity can be found, so can ecosystems.

Where I argued in the previous chapter that biodiversity enriches production, we can see here that it also enriches the soul. Without biodiversity, we will have a far more monochromatic and dull world, but more disturbingly, we also have far less to which we can relate and associate with. Extinction rates, being far above the expected background levels due to various anthropogenic pressures, threaten to strip with it much of what we identify as us and our home.


[9] Fischer, J., Zerger, A., Gibbons, P., Scott, J., and, Law, B. S. (2010) Tree decline and he future of Australia farmland biodiversity. PNAS. 107(45): 19597-19602. doi:1008476107.

This is chapter nine of the series The Human Island: A Place of Ecological Ruin. To see the previous chapter, click here. As the series grows, the complete work can be found here.


4 thoughts on “Ecology in Space: The Human Island (Chapter 9)

  1. Top post! Where do we see ourselves in the future: a dystopian wasteland of industrial processes, with only the most practical and useful biological life left, or a world something like what we have now, with places of wonder and recreation still left to experience?


    1. Exactly. We can’t just have species that we directly rely upon, because they in turn rely on others in a vast network of services. We could, theoretically, reduce the biodiversity a certain amount and survive – but why would we want to? We are as emotionally attached to the land and the ecosystems of our homes as we are to ecological services or else, when we move to new corners of the globe we wouldn’t try to make it a little piece of where we left; hence a lot of the introduced species, especially in Australia.


  2. One of the things we miss most, I think, is silence.

    When my OH was working in a small country town in the north of the state, I just loved waking in the middle of the night, nothing to be heard – and then a few magpies would have a quiet little gurgling conversation in a tree across the road. Bliss.

    And a couple of years earlier, in another country town, same quiet but a different group of houses around. Before dawn, roosters crowing a little way down the street. Like being a child again.


    1. That’s one thing I love about living in the hills near remnant veg – the unusual bird calls and night so quite you can have the window open (I’m a light sleeper and usually hear everything).


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