Ecology and Culture

Emily   Nov 29, 2015

Seasons come and seasons go. As I write this, fall is transforming our tree-lined streets into sparklers of reds, yellows, and golds. Leaves are falling to the sidewalks and coating the ground with a carpet of color. The air is crisp and occasionally carries the scent of softly burning wood smoke from someone's cozy hearth. And yet, here in the Pacific Northwest, the days are still warm enough that being outside is incredibly comfortable.

Seasons come and season go. As I write this, our culture is changing. The question is, how does one person (or one family) influence the heart and soul of their culture?

We have no say in what happens to our seasons. We have no control over the changing photoperiod that causes the trees to stop producing chlorophyll in their leaves. Much like we are simply responders to seasonal change, we often feel like we don't have any means of affecting positive cultural change in our own communities. We become reactionary, responders to change. In our weak moments of hand-wringing, we leave.

The problem is, we change our community by being in it. Our mere presence as a participant changes things. When we are absent, whether physically absent or just non-participatory, the ripple-effects are felt by those around us.

In my environmental science class, we discuss food and relationship webs extensively. In ecology, a community is all the different living organisms in a given area. Food webs show all of the predator-prey, consumer-food relationships in an ecological community. Relationship webs reveal all of the interactions between organisms in an ecological community. When you start removing organisms from one part of the food or relationship web, it puts strain on all the other areas of the web.

For example, if you were to remove a keystone predator from an ecosystem, you might all of a sudden be overrun by species that are lower on the food chain. As those populations climb, the food sources become depleted. Food shortages lead to weaker organisms, rampant disease, and large die-offs. Likewise, if you were to lose a primary producer (a plant resource) in a particular community, you would put pressure on the other producers as organisms shifted their patterns of consumption. Again, you would likely end up with food shortages and a weakened food web.

Sometimes the removal of an organism from a food web has effects that are quite severe, but also quite distant from their origin.

A similar situation can occur with the introduction of a new species to an area. Just read a little bit about the bull frogs that were introduced to Oregon to replace the consumption of red-legged frogs. Or the nutria that were going to replace the beaver in fur hats. Or... many other stories of introduced species wreaking havoc on local ecosystems.

Likewise, if you think of your community as an ecosystem, every member fills a niche. Every family has a role to play, a way they can contribute and connect. When families or individuals choose to remove themselves from the ecosystem, the effects are sometimes distant, but there are there. The pressure is felt as other members have to carry that weight, play multiple roles, or work harder to make up for the absentee member's slack. It puts strain on the community, and weakens its ability for forward progress.

When every member in a community fills their role, there is stability. When every member is willing to give back, share, and participate, positive change happens. A community becomes a place of progress and production. The old adage "many hands make light work" rings true. Our communities are stronger when we are involved.

So, what is your role? What can you contribute? How can you help bring about positive growth in your neighbourhood? We are all different; we all have different strengths. We all bring different passions and life experience to the table. We may not always succeed, but we must always give each other grace to try.

The more we get involved in our local ecosystems, the more connected we will feel, and the more we will begin to see positive change begin to happen.

Seasons may come and go, but we must engage if we wish to transform our communities.


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