Trophic Cascades

Whenever man tries to fix something in nature, he messes things up.

That Kudzu vine in Japan is beautiful, isn’t it? Why not bring some home for landscaping southern gardens? (Now called “the vine that ate the South”)

Ohh, I’d love to have one of those Burmese pythons in a terrarium!  Wowza, that thing is getting big.  Why don’t we just let it go in the Everglades?  (Now competing with alligators)

Uh oh. We have pests in the Hawaiian sugarcane fields.  How about bringing some of those South American cane toads to deal with the problem? (Uh oh. What are they devouring now?)

Oh how I long for my English homeland and those cute little rabbits.  Why not bring a few over and let them loose in the Australian outback? (You know what rabbits do best: reproduce!)

Hey! I’ve got a great idea for controlling the rabbit population (in New Zealand). Let’s import some stoats. (Whoops!  Bye bye, kiwi bird.)

An American zoologist, Robert Paine, coined the phrase “trophic cascade” in 1980.  He was describing reciprocal changes in food webs caused by experimentally removing top “keystone” predators.  In his case, he removed the pisaster ochraceus starfish that fed on mussels. A baby boom of mussels took place, depleted the algae and limpits.  Not good. Removing one predator from its native grounds can change an ecosystem.

Scientists saw tropic cascade in Yellowstone.  When the grey wolf was hunted and killed off eighty years ago, herbivore populations boomed. They ate the grasslands, tree saplings, shrubs and drank up, broke down the banks and contaminated waterways. Other species that needed those things for survival left. Songbirds, reptiles, amphibians, animals (like the beaver) and insects disappeared.  Yellowstone was being ruined by man’s interference.  What do you do?  Bring back the wolves!

When the wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone, deer and elk moved to other safer areas. Grasslands came back.  Tree saplings survived, forests grew, bringing back the birds. Wolves killed coyotes which allowed smaller animal species to increase, attracting eagles and hawks. As deer moved away from the streams, the trees grew taller, roots deeper, closing in toward the river banks, strengthening them. Berry bushes thrived, bringing bears down from the high mountains. Deeper streams and rivers brought back numerous species of fish – and animals that eat them.  Yellowstone is healing from man’s well-intention, but unwise interference. The “natural balance” is being restored.

If only people understood God, the Creator, knew exactly what He was doing when He designed and made our world.  Mess with His plan and what was intended to thrive dies.  But then that is the nature of man, isn’t it? To think he can play God.