The Ecological Balance Hypothesis
Over the last few years I have been observing and analysing the human population abusing the natural world, with a select few people interested in its well-being. The natural world itself is a very delicate mixture of organisms, animal and plant alike. As James Lovelock has noted several times, the Earth is like a super-organism, where everything biological is connected in ways that the human brain cannot even begin to grasp at the depths of its complexity. Like the many parts of the brain that connect to one another, the natural world is very similar in status; ecologically, the natural world is just as, or more so, marvellous than the human brain.
The Ecological Balance hypothesis is a justification of the importance of the natural world to humans, as well as the moral consequences involved with the nature of the hypothesis; this means that every activity humans partake in, they have the power to change the natural world, for good or for bad, and either destroy valuable resources, or rebuild a tragically diminished world. My idea for this hypothesis is to stress the importance of natural resources, like trees, water, land and other resources that humans value and use. The importance of animals and plants is also to be highly stressed, as they are, in some ways, much more important to the planet than we, as humans, are and have many more reasons to survive than humans do.
Everything that this hypothesis discusses has been thought over many times by my person and I have been considering everything that makes up this hypothesis for at least a couple of years.
This book really is just about why ecology is important to the survival of the planet Earth and how James Lovelock's Gaia theory fits into this. The Gaia theory will be a fairly common entity throughout my explanation of the Ecological Balance hypothesis, given that Gaia has much to do with the ecology and organisms of the Earth.
Chapter One: The Beginning of the Hypothesis
Originally, the idea of Ecological Balance stemmed from a simplified attempt at justifying the protection of the environment and nature, but after pursuing many different avenues of research and reading, it became clear that, ecologically, the Earth is in just as much danger as it is environmentally, that few people seem to truly appreciate. What got me interested in conservation and ecology was the notion of important species of animal becoming extinct; New Zealand flightless birds had suffered terrible losses of twenty-five percent of the known species, and that was only across a range of two hundred or so years.
The simple fact is: important organisms are dying out quicker than preferred and all because there aren't enough people involved in ecology and conservation. To fully sum up the power of human beings, one must understand that caring for the environment and caring for the earthen organisms actually enhances the chance of human survival.
Anyway the beginning, like I said at the start of this paragraph, began with the environment and then I ended up focusing on ecology and the environment; maybe I should call this the Ecology and Environment Argument. Ecological Balance works better though. I began with a book on biology which revolutionised my feelings for the environment and the way that human beings treated it. Campbell and Reece 2008.
Campbell and Reece is a textbook that notes each sub-discipline of biology. Genetics, ecology, biochemistry, evolution, the cell and plants, et cetera, et cetera. I originally learned many things to do with biochemistry; my particular favourite in this discipline was oxidative phosphorylation. I first learned that oxygen, in terms of oxidative phosphorylation, was the most electronegative ion. Oxidative phosphorylation is one stage of a well known biological process, involving the production of an energy source known as ATP. Adenosine tri-phosphate is the best source of energy that the body can create and does so from an organic compound, best known as glucose. Our bodies can refine thirty-six units of ATP from one molecule of glucose and around three hundred from a simple molecule of un-saturated or saturated fats.
Another component of metabolic pathways are enzymes, or also known as catalysts. Enzymes are a natural product of the body, which carry out certain, and specific, activities around the body. Enzymes are proteins and their main use is as catalysts, which help to speed up reactions within the body. The typical enzyme has many uses; one enzyme can carry out a variety of different tasks in different regions of the body. For example, there are enzymes in saliva, which help to break down food in the mouth and salivate it, as to aid the food upon going down the gullet. There are enzymes in the stomach, for breaking down and processing the food.
Now all of this may seem to have absolutely nothing to do with the environment, but, in order for humans to understand nature and the environment, it is necessary to have an arsenal of background knowledge, so humans can understand why it is necessary to preserve the natural environment. Metabolism proves useful to understand organisms, when you consider that to understand the way in which their bodies work, one must understand how they work, and then one may start to realise how this has an impact on the way their bodies work and how they respond to nature.
The first major question on my mind was what would it take for the general population to realise the importance of nature and the environment and how we can change, as a people, to make life better on Earth for humans as well as other organisms. The second question was simply how do we eradicate the greed and selfishness displayed by many members of our own species, so we, the general population, can correct wrongs that have been committed against other organisms.
After these thoughtful questions I decided to delve into the field of environmental science and, also, the field of ecology. It seems that the two scientific fields are more closely intertwined than I had originally thought; I came to this conclusion after reading the arsenal of books that the library held and deciding the importance of ecology and the environment.
One book, Global Environmental Change: Plants, Animals and Communities, by Jonathan Graves and Duncan Reavey, outlines the effects of the external environment on other organisms (other organisms, including plants, animals and micro-organisms), especially temperature. I found this interesting, because the concept of global warming states that global temperature has risen and will continue to rise, as well as the notion that winters will be colder and harsher, while summers will be warmer and have more extreme sun and ultraviolet levels. In Graves and Reavey, they show that the response to external temperature in animals can be very disrupting to internal proteins and enzymes, sometimes prohibiting the conformation, or shape, and which can disturb reactions between enzymes and activators. Enzymes do not respond well to temperatures over thirty-five degrees Celsius and eventually, under rigorous heat, will become denatured and unuseful.
Another paragraph from Campbell and Reece was about ecology and different definitions used in relation to diversity. There are three different kinds of diversity: Species diversity, genetic diversity and ecosystem diversity. Species diversity refers to differences between individuals of the same species where, normally, most of the species will be genetically and physically similar to other individuals of the same species. Genetic diversity shows differences between genes and genetic make-up in the bodies of organism. This may seem vague, but it is important to be able to tell why one species has a bulbous nose (like the proboscis monkey [Nasalis larvatus]) and why crabs walk sideways; both of these are a result of genes, and an adaptation to their ecosystem (even a result of behaviour). Some species can become geographically or physically separated from other members of their species, where these members will form their own community and adapt to their environment and change accordingly. Therefore, these isolated species will develop different behavioural and physical patterns than the non-isolated individuals of their species. This is known to biologists as speciation, where geographically isolated species are victims of allopatric speciation and physically separated species are victims of synpatric speciation.
Behavioural patterns are important to defining a species of animal, since the behaviour of an animal determines how it lives in a certain environment and how it interacts with other ecological beings, particularly other species and individuals of the same species. This is like a forest community, where many species of animal live together, generally in harmony (besides predator-prey relationships) and all have different behaviour patterns, although some species may be more similar to others in terms of how they behave and interact with other individuals. This brings me back to the well-used example of predator-prey between foxes and rabbits, where the fox population depends on the rabbit population, since the foxes depend on rabbits for food, but on the other hand, if the fox population were to die out from external sources, the rabbit population would rise and overwhelm the land from spontaneous, exponential growth.
After considering this information, I quickly rose to the challenge of gathering my own information and formulating an opinion and theory on ecology, especially in New Zealand. A particular example in New Zealand is that of introduced species and indigenous species; native birds and introduced animals, such as, ferrets, weasels and stoats. Before European colonisation, the native birds had no predators and, as they were flightless, they needed no human protection and thrived in the forested environment of pre-European times. However, after the introduction of ferrets and the related species, these birds were unprotected and highly vulnerable to these swift, deadly predators and many flightless birds were quickly wiped out.
It is the same for the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). The rabbit was first introduced into New Zealand in 1885 by the European settlers, and, after less than twenty years, became a huge problem. The rabbit population in New Zealand had increased by more than a thousand percent, and land was becoming increasingly more damaged; in fact, rabbits were causing erosion and land was steadily becoming less stable and easier to erode and cause land slides. Even today, rabbits are still considered somewhat of a problem and the Department of Conservation and NZFA are still on the lookout for increasing rabbit populations.
The point I am trying to make, is how many mistakes humans have made in regard to the environment and what we could do to fix it now and resolve ourselves of these mistakes. Our planet will be better off when we have fixed our mistakes and begun the healing process, in terms of animals and the environment. This means that, if our planet is better off, then we, as a people, will also be better off; a healthy planet makes a healthy people, so we will have more resources available to us once we have begun to repair the damage done to Earth.
Chapter Two: A New Look at Ecology, The Economy And The Environment
According to the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, their definition of ecology is: A starting focus on organisms, aggregations of organisms, or systems incorporating organisms or their by-products
The bounding of ecology by both the biological and physical sciences
The breadth of subject matters within ecology
The joint consideration of both biotic and abiotic aspects of nature
Depending on the ecological speciality, the focus can be on different proportions of biotic or abiotic aspects of nature
The relationships between organisms and the physical world can be bidirectional, although different specialities may emphasize the effect of the organisms (and systems containing them) on the physical world, or the effect of the physical world on the organisms
The boundary between the abiotic and the biotic aspects of ecology is blurry
The disciplinary focus is on “processes”, “interactions” and “relations” rather than on the physical entities per se.
The reason why I use this particular definition is the focus on processes, interactions and relations rather than physical entities themselves; if we use ecology to focus on these, then we can concentrate on the physical entities themselves within the field of environmental science. The physical entities themselves are rarely focused on within environmental science and are probably one of the most important components of this field.
Environmental studies deals with every issue that affects an organism. It is essentially a multidisciplinary approach that brings about an appreciation of our natural world and human impacts on its integrity. It is an applied science as its seeks practical answers to making human civilization sustainable on the earth’s finite resources. Its components include biology, geology, chemistry, physics, engineering, sociology, health, anthropology, economics, statistics, computers and philosophy. (Environmental Studies for Undergraduate Courses, 2004)
This definition accentuates the idea of many different fields of study (not necessarily fields of science) contributing to environmental science. Therefore environmental science is the study of the environment from the perspective of a collective of fields, including biology, ecology and sociology. All of these fields have an impact on the field of environmental science. For example, sociology deals with the environment and human social behaviour, while ecology involves the relationship between animals and the environment. There are also many sub-fields of biology, geography and ecology that have much to do with the environment, such as, animal physiology, geographic information systems and biological data processing (analysing biological data).
At this point, it is time to analyse the reasons why ecology is so important to the field of environmental science and to the well-being of planet, flora and fauna. If we really want to fix the damage we have done to the environment, then our priority must be to further understand what the problem is, how we can fix it and how to avoid further problems in the future, so that others don't repeat our mistakes. This can be done by further understanding ecology and the environment together; I will further emphasize this by repeating that ecology and the environment, as one, will help us to understand more about the environment and our impact on it.
The main reason why I say that ecology is important to the further understanding of the environment, is that of moral reasons, as well as logical reasons. If we want to preserve the planet, then we must make more effort to conserve animal species; if animals continue to die out at the rate we have set for the planet, then Earth will one day be a barren wasteland. This is the moral and logical reasoning. If there are no animals on Earth, then we go hungry. If we use all the fresh water on Earth, then we will go thirsty. This also concerns sustainability, which will be discussed further on in this article.
Ecology, as the science of natural balance, enables us to make this distinction clear. Natural evolution is characterized by the adjustment of natural balances over long periods of time. All species receive; but every species also gives. The balance of species in a particular region is established through this process of give-and-take. Humans, however, have largely stepped out of that system of balance by taking (receiving) much and giving little or nothing in return. Humans enter every natural environment as an “exotic,” perturbing the existing balances of species and refusing to be a party to any new balance. By its very nature, the human presence represents stress to every environment; and when that presence becomes permanent and grows greater, the stress remains permanent and balance is forever impossible. What this means is that human projects invade and defeat the fundamental rule of natural balance that has made the earth what it is. The distinction between human-built environments and natural environments is appropriate on this count even though humans are natural creatures. Indeed, human life represents a strange and increasingly dangerous destiny for nature itself. Having said this much, I shall make one final introductory observation about philosophy and the environment. It is my opinion that, try as humans have, they cannot change the fundamental rule of natural being; humans have merely pushed the envelope of natural balance way further than any other natural creature ever has. Balance will eventually prevail, and that means that humans, who have received so much, will ultimately have to give back to other species to restore balance. That giving will not be easy, especially if it results from the hands of other natural agents and processes. There is only one possible way of making it easier and that is the possibility that humans will use their highly toted rationality to guide their own actions into a respect for nature's rule. As natural creatures, humans must finally come to terms with the meaning of natural wisdom. Environmental philosophy is a young field that brings together this traditional nurturing of wisdom with a specific interest in the environment. Part of environmental philosophy is, therefore, exploring what we know and justifiably believe about the environment. But we have to be careful not to stop there. Environmental philosophy requires us to develop wisdom about the environment and that means, as above, discussing what is best for the environment, especially with respect to our own actions within the environment. (What Is Environmental Philosophy, 2000) The link between the environment and ecology is as intricate as the number of connections running from the brain to various parts of the body; you see, the way animals behave is important in understanding how they are affected by the ever-changing environment and global climate change. So far any effects that could be determined are that of temperature change in relation to metabolic systems within animals and how these temperature changes could affect these animals in the future. The big question is: Does climate change affect animals enough to damage their metabolic systems and how can we [humans] help this? This would be a huge problem, as many animals have less sophisticated metabolic systems than humans. Many animals live in areas with extreme temperature ranges, for example, animals that reside in the Tropics, Arctic, Antarctic and areas along the equator. This would put these animals in danger of over-heating or freezing, considering their lower level of metabolism; animals are very reliant on body temperature, which is important to most physiological and metabolic processes.
The word economics is also derived from the Greek root oikos. As nomics means 'management': economics translates as 'the management of the household' and, accordingly, ecology and economics should be companion disciplines. Unfortunately, many people view ecologists and economists as adversaries with antithetical visions.
Table 1-1 attempts to illustrate perceived differences between economics and ecology.
Later, this book will consider the confrontation that results because each discipline takes a narrow view of its subject and, more important, the rapid development of a new interface discipline, ecological economics, that is beginning to bridge the gap between ecology and economics (Costanza, Cumberland, et al. 1997; Barrett and Farina 2000; L. R. Brown 2001; Barrett & Odum, 2004).
If this is true, then we, as humans, are not viewing economics with the right aspect. As this excerpt states, the idea of economics is supposed to be the direct complementary subject of ecology – management of the household, which ecology is the subject of. Instead, economics has steadily devolved from a subject of much admiration, into a subject of controversy. In the world today, it is more important for people to get what they want/desire, rather than attempting to act sustainability, humankind is more worried about catering to the needs of the marketplace and the consumer. But, if we don't use our resources sustainably, then how will we survive once we have used them all. If we are so dependant on consumer-based technology, then how would humans survive in a world that has no access to such resources anymore? The answer is clear. We would not. People would be unable to entertain themselves without their 60 inch LED HD TV, with internet and other such amenities. Besides that, the world would be stuck in an economical rut – it should be common knowledge, that if abuse our natural resources, that the economy will suffer from this. This goes hand-in-hand with protecting our planet and environment, too, as well as the organisms that survive on our planet. If we do not protect our resources and act sustainably, then, instead of focusing less on the economy and supposedly losing money, we will actually be worse, economically-wise and the very thing that economists fear will happen right before their eyes.
On the other hand, we cannot afford to focus solely on the environment. Our economy, on this planet, is in such a fragile state, that spending extra money on the environment may disrupt this fragility. It is a tough situation. In order to overcome this barrier, we, as humans, must decide how to proceed in formulating a plan; a plan to stabilise our economy, protect our planet, act sustainably, use less resources for leisurely activities and begin to grow as a people – for we cannot do this when we are in such a state as we are at the moment.
The Ecological Balance Hypothesis is idea of the balance between these endeavours. I would hope that this theory/hypothesis will revolutionise the way people consider other organisms, ecological systems, the environment and the idea of sustainability, coupled with solving the problem of why our economy is fragile. So far, I have added a couple of articles that outline the definition of ecology today, as well as an article on environmental philosophy and a short excerpt on economics and how it relates to ecology as a subject. This is all very well, but what does it all mean to the average, everyday human – that goes to work for 8-12 hours each day (sometimes even in the weekend) and then comes home and relaxes? This means that we need to decide what we can ALL do to help – because solving a problem of such magnitude is going to take the help of everyone, not just a few people here and here... Everyone needs to get involved and pitch in, otherwise human society may very well fail and run out of resources to consume, leaving most people utterly helpless without their material belongings. It also means that humans have been slack in protecting the planet we live on. As the saying goes, my house is my castle... But, if I don't maintain and take care of my castle, then it will eventually fall down and become unusable. This is the same for planet Earth – if we continue to take advantage and use more resources than we need to, our planet will eventually become unusable and the human species will die out, along with many others. Keeping this in mind, wouldn't it be better to stop worrying about technology that only caters to leisurely activities (like Apple products, TVs and cellphones) and replicates similar technology to many other products. Obviously, products like cellphones and TVs have internet and this seems to be a useless endeavour, attempting to make life easier for humans – unfortunately, this actually makes life too easy for humans, who are becoming lazy from all the time-saving technology mankind has invented over the past few (or many) years. Perhaps, in the years to come, humans will finally understand that the economy can only exist within the thresholds of the environment. In other words, if we abuse the environment, then we abuse the economy too, whether people believe this, or not, but it is quite true and very easy to prove.
How much time and money have human beings wasted on inventing new technology that has no real value? We spend millions of dollars per year making new cell phones, so that we feel like we have the latest of everything. Why is it such a big deal to own obsolete technology, and for that matter, what is the big deal about having cameras, music players, video players on our phones and what about the pc phones? We don't need them that badly, if we spent the money on creating technology to save the environment, we probably would have done so by now and no-one would have to worry about Earth. In the space of about a thousand years, but mostly over the last 200, we have successfully ruined a planet that had been refining itself for over 4 billion years. The philosophical side is, why do we do it? And what purpose does it serve to destroy something we actually depend on? The first is easy enough to answer: people don't care, in general, as there are almost 7 billion people on planet Earth and too many conflicting opinions; this is not meant to be a dig at people personally, but a simple fact: we ARE causing damage to the planet we live on and this is not good enough – humans must focus more on using resources sustainably and protecting our great planet, Earth. The fact that we create some thousands of unneeded technology each year is a further testament to this – that is NOT using resources sustainably... Instead we are simply indulging people more than they need. It is all about the philosophical principle of humans 'wanting more'. There are currently 5 versions of the iPhone – we don't NEED to have newer and better ones, Apple could simply sell the same ones over and over and only create what they need. Once everyone has an iPhone, there is then little market for them and only people with broken ones will purchase another. This is the same for other cell-phones. We continue to upgrade, because we don't want to admit to our friends that we've had the same cell-phone for longer than two years and we certainly don't feel 'cool' if we don't have the latest technology. So, then, what do we do? The solution is to spend less money on consumer goods and more money on governmental projects, especially if they involve planting and working on various environmental problems that are in need of fixing. This is why I feel disgusted in society – owning a phone with the internet on it is more important than all the wonders of nature.
Science and Technology? (Beckman, 2000. From article, What Is Environmental Philosophy?)
We are plunged into a desperate debate with economists and resource technologists who want to claim that there is no definite carrying capacity of the earth and that, with appropriate technologies, the earth really can support any population of human beings. To even consider the idea of a limited 'carrying capacity' seems to the mainstream technologist like a surrender of everything that we have been for the last two centuries. Of course, they argue, technology will solve any and all problems in our future! Hasn't it always? (At least throughout the last two centuries.) Americans are especially susceptible to this argument because contemporary American society is built on a foundation of assumptions to the effect that science and technology will, in simple fact, solve any and every problem of the future. Americans simply anticipate continuing and inevitable technological progress in providing new ways to exploit nature for human ends.
Can this debate be satisfactorily resolved? The answer is 'no,' because what is at issue is a matter of faith. It is almost a religious faith; it is the faith that science and technology will indeed be our salvation against any attempt by nature to limit human growth and development. For humans to adopt such a view, as natural creatures themselves, is bizarre. It represents an astonishing situation in which a naturally evolved species is asserting that it has evolved past natural limitations and, therefore, refuses to participate in the overall fate of the natural world from here onward.
Just to clarify, essentially this article, by Beckman, is stating that humans believe themselves to now be above that of the natural world, and that we should be allowed to use the natural world for whatever purposes we desire. 'It represents an astonishing situation, in which a naturally evolved species of organism is insinuating that it has evolved beyond that natural limitations of Earth, and the natural world, and, therefore, accepts no further responsibility for the fate of the natural world anymore.' I'm uncertain as to whether I understand how many humans can take this view; I mean, seriously? We are so susceptible to the Earth's throes, that hundreds of people each year die from natural disaster. Less than 2 years ago, an earthquake hit Christchurch (New Zealand), in February 2011, and more than 200 people died as a result. Super-storm Sandy hit the United States in November 2012 and killed an estimated 80-135 people, 60 of which was supposedly attributed to New York alone. ( So, if we are that susceptible to the weather and natural disasters, then how can we even be that arrogant and ignorant to say that we are superior to the natural world? I honestly don't know and don't care to find out in too much detail. Either way, human beings are fooling themselves if they think that they are superior to the planet we live on. I believe it is known as 'living in denial'.
Chapter Three: Ecology Working Into The Equation
The first thing to start analysing is how animals might behave differently due to GEC, especially if it is affecting their habitat from global wind distribution patterns, or more/less rain in some regions. If the weather is affecting them, then the first analytical approach becomes apparent: testing different animals in different climates, focusing on their sensitivity to temperature i.e. how cold can they handle before their metabolism shuts down, from the 'denatured' enzymatic proteins in the animal's body.
Temperature and Animal Physiology (Extract from Global Environmental Change: Plants, Animals and Communities)
Body temperature has an enormous impact on physiological processes. We need to understand how if we really are to understand the ways in which animals are affected by environmental change – and the ways they can respond. In general, higher temperatures accelerate most processes. One indicator of metabolic activity is oxygen consumption, and this usually increases by 2-3 times for every ten degrees Celsius rise in temperature. However, above a particular temperature, oxygen consumption no longer increases as rapidly and, at a higher temperature still, a lethal temperature is reached and death occurs. (Graves & Reavey, 1996.)
Can Damaged Ecosystems Be Restored?
In the 1960's, Lake Erie was pronounced dead, its oxygen depleted in deep waters, its surface choked by overgrowth of algae, and some of its top predators endangered. Scientists concluded that the major cause of the degradation of the lake's ecosystem was too much phosporous from municipal waste. Overcoming the problems of Lake Erie required co-operation between the United States and Canada and led to the establishment of the International Joint Commission. Working together, the governments of two countries improved waste treatment in communities surrounding Lake Erie. By 1985, the annual release of phosporous from these sources had been reduced by eighty-four percent and phosporous levels in the Detroit River, which feeds Lake Erie, by sixty-five percent. (Botkin and Keller, 1995 & 1998)
This is interesting, because it shows that we could still restore much of the damage caused by humankind to the environment, as well as other ecosystems that have not been damaged beyond repair. Equally possible as repairing damaged land and soil, which would hinder land degradation and the rapid decrease in food production. Evidently it also shows that IT is certainly possible to repair damaged ecosystems and something humankind must concentrate on.
Adjusting Metabolic Heat Production (Campbell and Reece, 2008)
Because endotherms generally maintain body temperatures considerably higher than that of the environment, they must counteract constant heat loss. Endotherms can vary heat production to match changing rates of heat loss. For example, heat production-thermogenesis- is increased by such muscle activity as moving or shivering. In some mammals, certain hormones can cause mitochondria to increase their metabolic activity and produce heat instead of ATP. This non shivering thermogenesis takes place throughout the body, but some mammals also have a tissue called brown fat in the neck and between the shoulders that is specialised for rapid heat production. Through shivering and non-shivering thermogenesis, mammals and birds in cold environments can increase their metabolic heat production by as much as five to ten times the levels that occur in conditions. For example, chickadees, birds with a body mass of only twenty grams, can remain active and hold body temperature nearly constant at forty degrees Celsius in environmental temperatures as low as negative forty degrees, as long as they have adequate food. (Campbell and Reece, 2008)
These days' food is harder to come across, especially in winter, and animals may have some difficulty in finding adequate food to survive. Destruction of natural habitat is also a factor. This also makes it even harder for animals to survive, for, not only do they have less food to survive on, but they also have less habitat to survive in, which must also make it difficult to maintain these high metabolic temperatures. Even worse is the prospect of some species being endangered and, in some cases, dying out completely (extinction) and this would have a great affect on the ecological systems and niches that depend on the endangered/extinct species greatly. This would eventually lead to a decrease in either predators or prey (depending on the prospective species status), leading to a further decrease the other species depending on the extinct species. This would mean that the predator would have less prey to capture as a food source; or, on the other hand, the prey would have no predator to regulate their population, which would therefore grow out of control and other ecological niches, systems, as well as species would suffer as a consequence. This just shows how complex the life-system on planet Earth really is, and how little we really understand it.
What temperatures are too low and high for different species, then? The first thing to look at is how, in particular, animals in different habitats can withstand extreme temperatures, as well as different external temperature cues, and internal temperature cues...
Adaptation to Temperature
Even though temperature changes of only a few degrees can disrupt the conformation of proteins and nucleic acids; animals in the hottest and the coldest environments tend to have similar, if not the same, metabolic pathways. The difference is that enzymes, some structural proteins and nucleic acids are adapted to have structures that give stability at the prevailing temperature. Only a few differences in amino acid sequences are required to affect protein stability significantly. For nucleic acids, guanine and cytosine are linked by three hydrogen bonds, while thiamine and adenine are only linked by two. In the parts of nucleic acid molecules involved in maintaining the conformation, there is a higher proportion of guanine-cytosine base pairs in organisms that live at high temperatures.
Behavioural and Autonomic Responses to Environmental Change (Environmental Physiology of Animals, Edited by J. Bligh, J.L. Cloudsley-Thompson and A.G. Macdonald)
Behaviour is often regarded as something distinct from physiology but, since behaviour usually relates to responses to an environmental change, and always involves co-ordinated actions by many tissues of the body, such activities of an organism are clearly physiological.
The apparently 'purposeful' pattern of body movement, which is called behaviour, may be instinctive (genotypic) or learned (phenotypic). Generally speaking, the behavioural patterns involved in courtship, mating, nest-building and parental care are instinctive and presumably the appropriate external or internal stimulus triggers off a sequence of central nervous events which are 'built in' and unlearned. The extent to which man retains instinctive components of reproduction and parenthood is, of course, a much debated question. Many behavioural patterns are acquired and involve a process of learning from experience: the young otter, for example, learns to swim in much the same way as man learns most of his behavioural responses, apart from primitive ones such as sleeping, eating and aggression.
The main distinction between behavioural responses, both instinctive and acquired, and simpler reflex responses is that in higher animals the former involves movements of the whole organism. In the more highly developed multi-cellular animals, behavioural responses to the environment involve complex patterns of muscular activity, co-ordinated by the nervous system. A patterned muscular response might thus be taken as the definitive characteristic of behaviour applicable to movement.
Physiological and Behavioural Temperature Regulation (Environmental Physiology of Animals, Edited by J. Bligh, J.L. Cloudsley-Thompson and A.G. Macdonald)
A distinction is frequently made between behavioural and physiological thermal regulation, but as there is nothing un-physiological about behaviour, a now preferred distinction is between behavioural and autonomic processes. A behavioural thermoregulatory action is one which involves the whole organism and is readily observable (in animals large enough to be observed). In large multi-cellular organisms it involves complex sequences of integrated muscle movements and, in the higher vertebrates at least, these require the integrity of the cerebral cortex. In man, behavioural thermal regulation is apparently motivated and triggered by the conscious experience of thermal comfort and discomfort.
These readily observable responses of whole organisms to their thermal environments occur at all levels of animal life, and extend from thermo-tropism (tropism= movement of stimuli) of unicellular aquatic organisms, through, for example, the pre-flight wing spreading of the butterfly for the absorption of solar energy, to the elaborate nest-building activities of mammals and birds. It must be conceded that few forms of animal life (apart from those which are sessile) show the indifference to their thermal environments attributed to thermal conformers. The linear relation between body temperature and environmental temperature characteristic of thermal conformity can be readily demonstrated in the so-called lower vertebrates when exposed to different temperatures under laboratory conditions. In these circumstances the natural behavioural responses to the thermal environment are frustrated and such experiments can demonstrate only the absence, or the feeble development, of autonomic control over heat production and heat flow.
Autonomic thermal regulation, like behavioural regulation, is concerned with the modulation of heat production within the body, or with the rate of heat exchange between the organism and its environment, but unlike behavioural regulation it acts through changes in the functions of particular organs and systems rather than of the whole organism; and their operation may not be immediately apparent without the aid of sensing instruments. The term autonomic means self-governing, and describes those thermoregulatory functions of organs and tissue of higher vertebrates which can still operate after the removal of the cerebral cortex, and fatter the animal has been deprived of the ability to respond to stimuli with integrated muscular activity. These thermoregulatory responses can, therefore, be grouped together with those other functions which operate automatically, which are controlled subconsciously and sub-cortically, and which serve to maintain the homeostasis of the internal environments of organisms.
Conservation Biology and Restoration Ecology (Campbell and Reece, 2008)
Tucking its wings, a bird lands on a branch deep inside a tropical jungle. Sensing the motion, a conservation biologist scans the branch through binoculars, a glimpse of golden orange stopping her short. Staring back is a smoky honeyeater, a species that had never described before. In 2005, a team of American, Indonesian and Australian biologists experienced many moments like this as they spent a month cataloguing the living riches hidden in a remote mountain range in Indonesia. In addition to the honeyeater, they discovered dozens of new frog, butterfly and plant species, including five new palms. To date, scientists have described and formally named about 1.8 million species of organisms. Some biologists think that about 10 million more species currently exist; others estimate the number to be as high as 100 million. Some of the greatest concentrations of species are found in the tropics. Unfortunately, tropical forests are being cleared at an alarming rate to make room for and support a burgeoning human population. Rates of deforestation in Indonesia are among the highest in the world. What will become of the smoky honeyeater and other newly discovered species in Indonesia if such deforestation continues unchecked?
Throughout the biosphere, human activities are altering trophic structures, energy flow, chemical cycling, and natural disturbance-ecosystem processes on which we and all other species depend. We have physically altered nearly half of Earth's land surface, and we use over half of all accessible surface fresh water. In the oceans, stocks of most major fisheries are shrinking because of over-harvesting. By some estimates, we are pushing more species toward extinction than the large asteroid or meteorite that triggered the mass extinctions at the close of the Cretaceous period 65.5 mya.
Human activities threaten Earth's biodiversity
Extinction is a natural phenomenon that has been occuring since life first evolved; it is the rate of extinction that is responsible for today's biodiversity crisis. Because we can only estimate the number of species currently existing, we cannot determine the exact rate of species loss. However, we do know for certain that the extinction rate is high and that human activities threaten Earth's biodiversity at all levels.
Three Levels of Biodiversity
Biodiversity-short for biological diversity-can be considered at three main levels: genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecosystem diversity.
Genetic diversity comprises not only the individual genetic variation within a population, but also the genetic variation between populations that is often associated with adaptations to local conditions. If one population becomes extinct, then a species may have lost some of the genetic diversity that makes micro-evolution possible. This erosion of genetic diversity in turn reduces the adaptive prospects of the species, meaning that the gene pool will be reduced and the ultimate success of the species will be reduced.
The loss of genetic diversity throughout the biosphere also affects human welfare. If we lose wild populations of plants closely related to agricultural species, we lose genetic resources that could be used to improve crop qualities, such as disease resistance, through plant breeding. For example, plant breeders responded to devastating outbreaks of the grassy stunt virus in rice (Oryza sativa) by screening 7,000 populations of this species and its close relatives for resistance to the virus. One population of a single relative, Indian rice (Oryza nivara), demonstrated resistance to the virus, and scientists succeeded in breeding the resistant trait into commercial rice varieties. Today, the original disease-resistant population has apparently become extinct in the wild.
Public awareness of the biodiversity crisis centres on species diversity-the variety of species in an ecosystem or throughout the biosphere. As more species are lost to extinction, species diversity decreases. The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) defines an endangered species as one that is “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” Also defined for protection by the ESA threatened species are those that are considered likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. The following are just a few statistics that illustrate the problem of species loss:
-According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), 12% of the nearly 10,000 known species of birds and at least 20% of the nearly 5,000 known species of mammals are threatened.
-A survey by the Center for Plant Conservation showed that of the almost 20,000 known plant species in the United States, 200 have become extinct since records have kept, and 730 are endangered or threatened.
-About 20% of the known species for freshwater fishes in the world have either become extinct during historical times or are seriously threatened. In North America, 123 freshwater animal species have become extinct since 1900, and hundreds more species are threatened. The extinction rate for North American freshwater fauna is about five times as high as that of terrestrial animals.
-According to a 2004 report in the journal science that was based on a global assessment of amphibians by more than 500 scientists, 32% of all known amphibian species are either very near extinction or endangered.
Extinction in NZ (Rare Wildlife of New Zealand, Morris & Ballance, 2008)
New Zealand is home to about 70,000 indigenous terrestrial species, less than half of which have been described. Marine scientists have estimated that as many as 80 percent of NZ's native biodiversity is found in the ocean, and even though only around 8,000 marine species have been formally described, more than 180 new species per year are described from these marine habitats. Many species are endemic (found only in NZ).
New Zealand's biota is experiencing a detrimental wave of extinction that began first with Maori and then later European settlement, which has continued to the present day (and grown worse). In that time, we have already lost 32 percent of endemic land and freshwater birds, three reptile species and possibly eleven species of vascular plants, and the number of threatened or at risk species continues to increase.
These prior articles serve a particular purpose and that is to show the scientific side of this problem. In other words, our actions have consequences, not only on our society as a whole, but also with the other organisms that inhabit this planet. Our opinions on the matter are irrelevant – we must do something, otherwise our planet may be predisposed to going through another Great Extinction Period, which may even include ourselves among the casualties. In ecology, behaviour is a very important key to understanding how each species of animal and other organisms work, and how they define themselves differently from most other species alive on this planet. Temperature is very important, as the article from Graves and Reavey proved, as this could have an effect on the metabolism of many species. This goes hand-in-hand with the current environmental problems in this day and age.
There are various problems involving the environment. These are often revolving around the destruction of land and forest, in order to cater for the ever-growing population (which is getting ridiculously large) and the huge lack of food and similar resources in many African countries, China, India and some other countries in that general region. While this is not necessarily a problem at this time, growing population pressures could cause food to become harder and harder to grow, when the available land for agricultural purposes becomes harder and harder to use, due to a huge degradation in the soil and nutrients.
Anyway, here are a few problems of the day and age to ponder over:
Land Degradation: This problem is usually caused by the stamping of cattle over agricultural land. If the land is not repaired properly, it can become unusable to grow crops in and will become unused and left to grow unkempt with weeds. When the land, and soil, loses the nutrients – many plants are unable to grow and therefore cattle cannot graze there, due to the poor quality of grass; also, it means that crops are not able to be grown properly, or at all, and the ones that do grow, usually have many problems with lack of nutrients – like a lack in phosphorous, nitrogen, magnesium and other such ions found in soil.
Deforestation: Deforestation is a major problem, especially in rainforests, such as the Amazon, or the rain-forested land in Borneo and other Indonesian countries and Asian countries. Because of logging, for building materials, trees are cut down and can be used for a great many things, including textiles, paper and wood for building houses and other such buildings. This is a major problem, because the animals living in the rainforest get displaced, and, as a result, die off and often become endangered species, and many members of the species end up living in zoos, simply to protect them from humans and any other predators in the forest. Simply put, in rainforests, humans are disrupting the natural order of predator-prey relationships and causing many problems with many of the animals living in the region. It would be wise to try and work out a better way of finding wood for building and for making paper. In Malaysia, and some of the other countries around the region, palms are cut down and used to make palm oil. Some organisations, like Greenpeace, have come up with petitions to the companies requiring the use of palm oil in their product, so that cutting down the palms is lessened (the effect).
Animal cruelty: In many countries, some animals are treated cruelly, especially those that are usually regarded as pets. In the day and age we are in, given how much we think we understand, this is obviously not good enough and more must be done to stop these criminals that assume they can torture animals and get away with you. They should be allowed the right to live in peace, just like humans are able to do.
Following these problems, population is the next problem, which was partially discussed earlier, however, it was not in enough depth and now I will add an extra article to make up for this lack in detail:
There have been many debates on the population dilemma and how it might affect the world's carrying capacity. Many environmental scientists, economists and people from other professions have theorised the effects of population growth on the environment and whether it would have bad effects, good effects, or no noticeable effects. One such person was Rev. Thomas Malthus, who wrote a paper outlining the bad effects of population growth on society.
Bad effects on Society?
Population increases should theoretically cost us more food, water and resources, while seeing an increase in the amount of poverty in the world. It has been argued that exponential growth will occur in human populations, while food production will only increase arithmetically. Malthus was the main figure to maintain this, especially in his publishment: An Essay on the Principle of Population. This publishment was widely criticised by many different people, especially people with the good of human society at heart and economists.
Interestingly enough, today economics and money are particular driving forces of society, where people need money otherwise it is not possible to survive. Economics is declared by many as more important than the environment in which it is supported by, yet we need the environment to be able to support our economy.
We don't just have inequality in wealth, but also in opinion. People in power and individuals with money, but particularly wealthy and successful companies (with interest in money and resources), get more consideration when it comes to important issues (like global environmental change), and they make it much harder for the general population to oppose people who want to damage nature and the environment. Inequality in wealth is just as much of a problem as having an inequality in opinion. Many countries, especially in African countries, some Asian countries and especially China and India, have large numbers of poverty-stricken people. In the United States, inequality in wealth is very high. In some cities, especially Los Angeles, you have people that can barely afford to buy food, then you find people in other parts of the city that buy cars worth more than many houses and houses that can exceed 20 million dollars. Even in New Zealand, there is a fair amount of inequality in wealth.
Anyway, just one more part to add. But, the future, for humans, is very uncertain, when you consider how fast the population is growing; if it continues to grow as fast as it is now, then, without a doubt, society will crumble and resources will disappear faster than they are consumed. It is a very scary thought – that perhaps the people of planet Earth will succumb to such fate, even after the amazing things that society, as a whole, has achieved. In fact, it would be incredibly ironic to say the least – that the indestructible man brought to its knees, and, interestingly enough, not by any animalistic predator, but by its own selfish acts.
Chapter Four: A brighter Future
In the end, everything is important towards a brighter future – a future where humans can live peacefully and how they wish, without destroying the planet and using more resources than necessary. There are numerous ways that we can make our future brighter, too: we can solve our energy crisis, abolish nuclear weapons, work on developing food and other finite resources sustainably, as well as being kinder to animals and planting more and more trees, plants and shrubs, in order to re-vegetate our planet and make it greener. There have also been many international agreements between the countries and involving the United Nations; these countries have signed such agreements as the Kyoto Protocol, Rio Earth Summit and the Copenhagen Accord. These agreements state that countries should clean up their environmental state of affairs by a certain date, and will be punished or fined if they do not.
Because of the energy crisis, there have been many suggestions as to what we should use for a sustainable source of energy. Some of these suggestions include: tidal energy, wave energy, wind energy, hydro energy and solar energy – however, none of these suggestions are constant. In order to feed the massive consumption of energy around the world, a source of energy must be constant. This problem is in debate, and even nuclear energy has been suggested. However, nuclear energy is potentially highly dangerous and many countries might not even consider this as a possibility, especially including New Zealand, which has always maintained a tight policy around nuclear energy/weapons, to the point that nuclear energy, in any form is not allowed in the country and other countries have been forbidden to bring anything nuclear onto New Zealand shores. Regarding the problems surrounding those forms of energy, there might be a way to utilise them so that they can almost remain constant, bearing in mind that the sun is usually out all day, unless it is cloudy. Hydro energy is constant for much of the year, except during summer and unusually dry seasons/times. Wave energy is often constant enough, though the waves generally depend on how windy it is. The larger the waves, the more energy is released when they break, and this is the exact moment that needs to be captured by the device proposed to obtain this energy. Wind energy is another one that is not quite constant, but the wind is often there, even in smaller quantities (when it is less windy, or there is just a minor breeze). All of these sources of energy may end up forming a great strategy for using infinite energy and natural, even, too. All of these sources are easily available in New Zealand and some of these (wind energy, hydro energy) are already used to bolster the energy consumption.
Farmland also needs to be especially cared for, so that it can become sustainable and not degraded after a few crops of plants and several grazing’s from cattle. In fact, it is much more important than any other problem – land must be taken care of, otherwise keeping a steady flow of food from crops and animal framing will be almost impossible for the huge number of people on Earth in this day and age.
Chapter Five: The Gaia Theory and Its Relationship With the Ecological Balance Hypothesis!
James Lovelock has been an idol of mine, for some time. He is an extraordinary writer, with a vision unlike any other – he created the idea of the Gaia hypothesis, which states an importance in humans taking care of the planet they live on and how ecologically-rich the planet is. He also states that Earth is like a super-connected organism, where there are so many different relationships and interactions, that it makes the brain seem minuscule in comparison.
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