Web Niche on Biodiversity & Conservation Biology

Welcome to my Web Niche on Biodiversity and Conservation Biology (BCB) the department I work in at the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town. Biodiversity is the variety of forms of living organisms at various levels and Conservation Biology is the study of how we can prevent species and habitats being lost while still maintaining sustainable human societies. I teach Landscape Ecology and Ecological Informatics.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Why are Ecologists not as important as Medical Doctors?


The health of us as an individual is not dissimilar to the health of the world. We all need energy obtained from the integrating of various body systems from locomotory system for obtaining the fuel, the alimentary system to process the fuel using the oxygen obtained from the respiratory system to combust it and a digestive system to get rid of waste products. As an individual these integrated systems suffice to create a functioning body, but this body is built for an operational lifespan where upon it ceases and so there is no sustainability. Here Mother Nature (and Farther Darwin) were really clever in designing (and describing) in-built sustainability by providing us the ability to make copies, the really neat bit is that the copies are not exact and more copies are produced than are needed (sounds like economics – creating a market for something you did not have, probably never needed but indeed becomes indispensable such as the camera chip on the cell phone). By combining surplus production of copies with modifications of the blueprints, sustainability of the life-form, like us is usually ensured even when circumstances change. Essentially selection operates to optimise our suitability of each life form to the environment. Consequently we are all little more than iterations in a gigantic game of life, and life is little more than a sexually transmitted disease.

After analyzing ourselves lets examine the world – it is also an integration of systems that includes transfers of heat and energy. Differential heating among different land and ocean surfaces causes compensating air movements (wind). Winds are one way of redistributing heat and both cause and prevent rainfall as well as determine where the rainfall will happen. Winds essentially drive systems such as oceanic upwellings by removing surface water so that colder water from the ocean depths upwells to replace the “lost” surface water. The atmospheric and oceanographic circulations consequently attempt to equalize global phenomena – again this is similar to our bodies which attempt to maintain constant environments within themselves (called homeostasis and where some animals are better at maintaining this than others - so we have homeotherms like ourselves that very precisely regulate our temperatures) . If our thermostats go even slightly wrong we run to our GPs with a “Fever”. The concern we have for our bodies somehow is not carried through to concerns for our environment. There are so many serious issues facing the world with global warming and more erratic and extreme weather events. Our Tundras are thawing, glaciers are retreating, and snow capped mountains are melting and large chunks of the ice shelf the size of Belgium are breaking away (Larsen B ice shelf). Animals are moving in response to these changes with fish migrations in the oceans and the arrival of new animals from distant lands (e.g. egrets arriving in the UK). Although measured temperature increases are occurring, atmospheric Carbon Dioxide levels are increasing even more steeply (but has some way to go to get to the levels that existed when then dinosaurs were around) we are not responding as actively and collectively as when an illness raises our own temperatures. Consequently the medical profession is still seen as being more important and its practitioners better paid than ecologists, environmentalists and climatologists who are essentially the doctors of our ailing planet. Lets all get our lizard skin suits on for another hot date with a sweaty Mother Earth.

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