Hitched to Everything Else . . .

By Published On: June 12, 2024Categories: Nature

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.    John Muir

Ecology is the study of relationships—of organisms to each other and to the physical world in which they live. The great mystique of nature is in how beautifully complex these interactions are, and the wonderful surprises they bring us as we slowly uncover them.

A case in point is how the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park has caused a blossoming of nature in general within the park. Wolves were finally exterminated from Yellowstone in the 1920’s when the prevailing sentiment was that wolves are a threat to other wildlife. Deer and elk populations soon mushroomed and a new normal took over for the next seventy years.  The banks of the streams and rivers began to change as the herbivores kept streamside trees and shrubs in check. Then, in 1995, wild wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone. Scientists have been tracking the profound changes to the entire ecosystem ever since. Check out this short video about how adding one key species came to change even the course of rivers and cleaned the water.

John Muir

What is true in wild ecosystems like Yellowstone is also true in not-so-wild ecosystems like your backyard, your farm, your local park, or natural area. We see that each native species that is added to an ecosystem is a sort of portal—an unlocked door—for another species to show up on its own, and then another.

A simple wildflower can be a portal for other species in your habitat: for example, a bird, a bug, or a butterfly. Perhaps an insect that you never even noticed uses that wildflower plant in some way; and perhaps there is a bird whose favorite food is that insect; the bird is now attracted to your habitat when it wasn’t before. The new link in the food web becomes the “hitch” for yet another species, and another, and so on. Suddenly, you have a more balanced ecosystem, attracting birds naturally–rather than just because of your backyard feeder. A bird feeder by itself is the ecological equivalent of a fast-food drive-through.

When you sow seeds of native plants, you add the natural “hitch” for additional species to hook up to, in the words of John Muir.

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