from “TRANSITIONS” Stephen B. Jones, Ph.D.:
Think for a moment of our dynamic Earth. The summit of Mount Everest is marine limestone. Calciferous sediments long ago settled to the floor of a shallow, tropical sea. Incomprehensible time and ever-deepening layers eventually buried the sea creature-remains to great depths beneath deposits heavy enough to generate enormous pressure and heat. Those conditions transformed the sediment to limestone. Then titanic crustal plate collisions (India slamming into Asia) lifted the hardened limestone nearly six miles above sea level. Nothing in nature is static; transition over time is the name of the game.
Transition over distance (both vertical and horizontal) defines ecosystems and ecosystem boundaries (ecotones). My Ph.D. research assessed the relationship between measurable site factors and forest productivity. Site factors include slope steepness, slope position, slope shape, aspect, soil depth as well as mineral and chemical features, and other site attributes. Today I see the findings as predictable and self-evident. For example, lower concave slopes (especially those facing east and north) are richer and more productive. Deeper soils are more productive. Forest species composition and understory vegetation likewise shift with site.
I can’t recall the nature of the forest or site where a full-grown black bear stopped by to “sample” the brown paper bags that contained the soil horizons we had just collected from one of our plots. As we stood transfixed, the bear, finding nothing edible, ambled on, paying us little mind! But I digress. My memory of the bear is more deeply etched than that particular site or forest. A fifty-feet-away-bear encounter draws a great deal of attention. My sampling partner and I eventually transitioned back to the business at hand.
from “ECOTONES” Jennifer J. Wilhoit, Ph.D.:
We use the word “ecotone” to refer to a particular region of the landscape. An ecotone is a transition zone, a place where two or more distinct biological communities come together. An ecotone is especially rich in biodiversity because it contains species from each natural area that converges there. The ecotone between the forest and meadow might contain small grasses, a few scattered saplings, wildflowers and some blown leaf litter, for example.
Conceptually, the term “ecotone” offers a more complex perspective of how things really manifest in life. If we think about the term “ecotones” as an idea that is defined by those characteristics of a transition zone in the natural world, we can begin to apply this understanding to our lives. Ecotones can help us understand the emotional and spiritual transitions on our inner landscapes. There is hope and inspiration in the idea of ecotones as applied to the transitions of the human life.
A simple comparison, and one with which we are all familiar, is the change of seasons. In the natural world the temperatures slowly begin to rise or fall, precipitation gradually changes, the grasses and leaves are altered, and there are shifts in terms of which particular bird species are present. We might not want to overlook, either, the ways in which we shift with the seasons; our animal selves with natural instincts unfettered also turn inward in winter, begin to emerge freshly in spring, are out and about in summer, and begin to move closer to home in autumn.
What I find compelling about ecotones as a concept is that they offer us a new way to live.
from “ECOLOGICAL DIVERSITY” Stephen B. Jones, Ph.D.:
Henry David Thoreau understood and expressed in Walden that we are a component of a grand ecosystem, whether globally or in the neighborhood of the pond. I believe he bemoaned, even then, that man was distancing himself from nature at our species’ peril, losing our intelligence with the Earth.
As Muir noted, we and every element of Earth’s ecosystem are hitched to everything else in the universe. We clearly do not know all we need to understand about the dense web of interconnectivity. And we do not comprehend the thresholds of impact and consequence that our actions, intended and otherwise, have on the one great global ecosystem that sustains Homo sapiens. I fear that we are uncertain whether we are plunging headlong into an abyss of our own making. We need to know where the ecosystem resilience and ecological impact lines cross, teetering us over some unanticipated threshold. Ecological diversity is a central buffer to catastrophe, yet ecological diversity suffers consequentially from our expanding human population and exploding consumption of land, goods, and services.
I believe, in my heart of hearts, that we can reawaken the passion and wisdom that Muir and Thoreau felt and expressed. We are, and we must be, capable of recognizing and preserving the ecosystem richness that sustains us.
from “BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY” Jennifer J. Wilhoit, Ph.D.:
We live on this incredibly beautiful, spinning planet that is rushing headlong through infinite space. The bones of this orb are made of fire and rock. The Earth’s epidermis is liquid: the salty seas of this sumptuous sphere with swimming beings as large as blue whales, crawling ones like crabs and turtles, invertebrates (corals, anemones, jellyfish) of amazing shapes and textures. Or the freshwater lakes, bogs, and rivers. In other places, our home’s surface skin is soil, teeming with tiny creatures—some only discernible through microscopes. Atop this grow the redwoods and rhododendrons, sagebrush and sword fern; and on some of these living beings grow other beings: mosses, ivy, mushrooms. We cannot forget, either, the vast stretches of sandy and rocky spots that we call by names like “Mojave” and “Kalahari.”
I have seen a sampling of the jaw-dropping ecological diversity on all seven continents of this great Earth.
But I do not believe it takes these once-in-a-lifetime encounters to really know and appreciate this Earth. I have spent many, many years going outside on a daily basis and touching the soil in my back yard. And it is this regular, ordinary, everyday engagement that I know can bring us into perfect alignment with the bounty of the natural world, and the bounty within ourselves.