Meandering Along the River’s Edge
~by Virginia Rhys Anson, OFS
March 2, 2015: Earth in Harmony
What an infinitely fantastic God we have. By His design, nature seeks a harmonious balance, similarly to the way that instruments in an orchestra work together to create a symphony. In an orchestra, each type of instrument plays its own set of notes within a selection. These parts combine to produce a synchronized piece of music. In nature, each insect, animal, fungus, and plant has its own role to play in order to produce a synchronized ecosystem.
An ecosystem is a community of plants, animals, soil, and gases that coexist and depend upon each other for survival. In other words, everything in nature works together and relies on other plants and animals for life. In last month’s column, we saw that Hawk depends on Snake, which depends on Frog, which depends on Dragonfly, which depends on the hibiscus.
God created over one million types of plants and animals on Earth. Now how amazing is that? Can you imagine how many ecosystems there are on Earth and how many communities of plants and animals are competing with, and depending on, each other for survival?
If you go out in your back yard, you will find several ecosystems. A flower bed is a fun ecosystem to investigate. The soil feeds the flowers that grow in the garden. If you dig into the ground, you may find earth worms that fertilize the soil and make it rich with the nutrients that the plants need. Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies feed on the nectar of the flowers. Caterpillars eat the leaves and eventually morph into butterflies within cocoons. You might even see birds eating seeds from the flowers or a family of rabbits munching on the plants.
The earthworms, flowers, hummingbirds—everything that makes up the garden’s ecosystem—transfer energy that comes from the sun, as we learned last month. However, the food and energy that the food chain supplies are not the only ways that plants and trees help animals and people. They also produce oxygen, which animals and humans need in order to breathe. The rainforests of the Amazon produce 40% of the oxygen for the entire world. Plants also take in carbon dioxide, which is the waste product that animals give off when they breathe out. We breathe in the oxygen that plants give off, and they take in the carbon dioxide that we breathe out.
By absorbing carbon dioxide, trees also help to fight the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect occurs when carbon dioxide increases so much that it acts like a greenhouse. Greenhouses keep the plants alive and healthy because they trap heat within themselves. In a similar way, the carbon dioxide traps heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Life on Earth needs heat, but too much can be dangerous and interferes with nature’s balance. If carbon dioxide increases above its healthy level, it can heat Earth too much. Earth will not maintain the balance that its Creator intended.
The carbon dioxide that humans and animals breathe out is not the only carbon dioxide on Earth. Cars and other vehicles use gasoline, which is a fossil fuel. A fossil fuel is produced from the decomposed remains of plants and animals that died and were buried hundreds of millions of years ago. Before the dinosaurs lived, the bodies of dead plants and animals started to decay. These decaying bodies eventually became fossil fuels.
As fossil fuels burn, they put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide allows the light rays of the sun to pass through the atmosphere to Earth’s surface. However, it doesn’t allow the heat to escape. If the carbon dioxide levels become too high, trees and plants won’t be able to absorb enough of it. And if we significantly reduce the forests, there will be fewer trees to take in the carbon dioxide. These two situations could cause the temperature on Earth to increase and create a greenhouse.
Back to Nature’s intricate ecosystems. If human beings do not interfere with God’s design, our Earth can continue to allow each species of plant and animal to work together with other species in its own niche–its own special home. Ecosystems must, however, remain balanced. All aspects of a plant’s or animal’s environment must be present in order for each species to survive–the sunlight, the soil, the vegetation, and the plants or animals on which it feeds.
If the ingredients in an animal’s environment are no longer there, that animal will die. It is theorized that dinosaur extinction was instigated by a meteor hit. This meteor created a dark cloud that covered the plants and killed the food that the dinosaurs ate. Unfortunately, we find many species of plants and animals becoming extinct in the rainforests because the trees are being destroyed. The food and shelter that these species need for survival are being eliminated.
Most types of forest trees depend upon a soil fungus that grows on their roots. This fungus helps the trees to absorb the nutrients they need from the soil. If the fungus isn’t in the soil, the trees die because they can’t get the proper nutrients.
Monarch butterflies depend heavily on milkweed, which is often killed because it is seen as a weed. The milkweed is the only plant on which the Monarch lays its eggs and on which its caterpillars feed. If milkweed continues to disappear, so will Monarch butterflies.
I do digress. A plant or animal lives where it does for a reason. There may be something in that specific ecosystem that it needs in order to live. A koala bear lives in Australia because that is where it finds its food supply–eucalyptus plants. The panda bear feeds on bamboo, so it lives in Asia where bamboo shoots grow.
Some plants and animals inhabit certain areas of Earth because there are natural barriers, like mountains, that prevent their migration to another part of the world. The oceans prevent some animal and plant species from inhabiting other continents.
The polar bear lives in the Arctic because it needs the cold weather, ice drifts, and marine animals, such as seals and young walruses, that are native to the Arctic. Now many of these necessities also exist in the Antarctic, but the polar bear cannot migrate that far south because it can’t tolerate the warm weather between the two poles. The equator would be unbearable for an arctic animal. The warm weather and the equator are barriers that the polar bear cannot cross. So it remains in the Arctic.
Since most birds can fly, doesn’t it seem logical that they can all migrate to any land in the world? This might sound realistic, but the truth is that not all birds can fly everywhere. Certain birds live only in specific regions of the world. Ptarmigans live in the tundra, hummingbirds make their homes in North America, and birds of paradise inhabit the islands of Melanesia.
So why don’t these birds just pack up their little suitcases and fly to other parts of the world? They don’t because God’s design has set up natural barriers for birds as well. Mountains may be too high or oceans may be too wide. The temperature of the air may be too frigid or too hot. Penguins prefer the cold and do not migrate for the same reason that polar bears remain in the Arctic. The tropical birds, on the other hand, prefer warmth. The colder climates would freeze their little tail feathers.
Fish, likewise, have natural barriers. Fresh water fish cannot survive in the ocean and salt water fish would not live very long in a lake. A brook trout requires large amounts of oxygen and inhabits the upper portion of a stream where the water flows over the stones. This aerates the water, which increases the oxygen supply for the trout. Catfish, on the other hand, need low levels of oxygen. They stick to the lower portions of the stream where the water is calm and the oxygen supply is lower.
How utterly fascinating is nature. Its Creator has devised so many intricate methods that allow our earth to maintain balance in her ecosystems. Life on Earth really does act like an orchestra. And this balance sustains all life on Earth. If humanity sees itself as a part of nature, if it does not try to dominate nature, if it takes care of our earth, then this balance will endure and Earth’s creatures can live within harmoniously orchestrated ecosystems. Humans must remember that God created us to be stewards of Earth, to take care of her and ensure that she stays balanced. Only then can she provide for life on our planet as God has ordained.
Virginia Anson grew up in the shadows of Sandia Crest in New Mexico. Family camping trips may have sparked her passion for nature. She holds an A.S. in Electronics Technology, a B.A. in Writing, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and a certificate in Wildlife/Forestry Conservation. Her book, Mother Earth’s Caretakers, targets middle school youngsters and is published as an e-book for Kindle. Virginia is a Vietnam Era veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and her volunteer endeavors see her as a lector, Eucharistic minister, and sacristan in her parish and as a habitat steward for the National Wildlife Federation. She especially cherishes her life in the Secular Franciscan Order, following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.
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