Sunday, February 13, 2011

Keystone Species and Ecosystem engineers -- you too can be one

Prairie dogs
First, of all, hello. I am (Andra) working with Sharon helping her to keyword images for Mother-Daughter Press. I look at pictures and think about what words all of you might use to find them. I think about scientists, students, greeting card designers, art folks, and everyone else.

One thing I love about the task is finding out something I never knew about an animal or plant. I find that I look at the world differently, thinking about the picture out my window or how I would keyword the view on my run.

A few weeks ago, I keyworded an image of a starfish, I think this one:

I looked it up on google, trying to find the Latin name, something we try to always include, and found out something far more interesting about starfish. They are a keystone species. A what?

Keystone species have a disproportionate affect on their ecosystem, they play an important role in maintaining the structure of that ecosystem. You may have heard about indicator species, who like canaries in the mine, indicate the overall health of the ecosystem. Keystone species actually help to maintain the health of that system.

There are several different ways in which species can be keystones. They can be predators, mutualists, or engineers. Predators control the population of a species that would otherwise overtake the ecosystem. Mutualists are partners in a relationship that is crucial to the ecosystem, and engineers are the most amazing of all!

Engineers change the ecosystem. They transfer nutrients from the ocean to the forest (bears),
Brown bear-- an ecosystem engineer
build lakes (beavers), prevent runoff and erosion (prairie dogs), and clear land so other species have space to graze (elephants).
Elephants-- effective ecosystem engineers-- clear land
This is the kind of thing that derails me from keywording and sends me into the rabbit hole of google, and it's the kind of thing that I keep thinking about hours later.

What would happen if we recognized ourselves as engineers? As a keystone species that has the ability to maintain or destroy the planet? Would we change our behavior more quickly if we held ourselves to the stewardship standard set for us by prairie dogs?

I can only hope so.

[Sharons note: I love it we have keywords and keystone species-- a meta-theme emerges about connectedness across and within systems and the keys that serve as bridges or nodes. So, a key word or phrase for starfish might be keystone species.

For some more fun on this topic check out
-- Oysters as engineers-- they clean bays and oceans (see TED video-- oysters as architects and engineers TED.
--Prairedog talk on Radiolab short - radiolab & prariedog

Maybe some of the silly circular talk about climate change would be different if we asked if we are ecosystem engineers? And then, described all the ways that looks and could be different if we got very good at understanding the systems.

Thanks very much, Andra!

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