It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Nice comment by Hank

Hank Roberts has a comment on RC on whether an interest in environmental protection is altruistic.

He says not, in an interesting way.

If wishes were fishes I wish I could hear Dawkins and E. O. Wilson hash this out. Perhaps the selfish gene produces biophilia for a reason...

1 comment:

Hank Roberts said...

Thanks for the kind words; note any search for +altruist +ecosystem will find a literature worth reading, there's a lot of thought about the meaning of these words.

(Also note what you'll find for 'detritovore' and 'overshoot' and 'wasp' (grin). Which is cautionary about how humans behave.)

Example:

http://oregonstate.edu/terra/features/alert.php

... Ripple reports. "I suddenly thought, 'Hey, wolves protect aspen.'"

What he and Larsen found confirmed his hunch -- a hypothesis first advanced by the father of wildlife conservation, Aldo Leopold, more than a half-century before: that large carnivores are critical to maintaining healthy ecosystems at every trophic level -- that is, every link on the food chain. "We found that aspen tree regeneration has diminished since the 1930s, beginning soon after all the wolves were killed off," he says.

In the recent Zion study, the latest in nearly 10 years of cumulative research supporting their hypothesis, Ripple and Beschta turned up still more evidence. After measuring trunk diameters, taking core samples and counting rings, they found an astounding cottonwood age gap between the two canyons. The number of cottonwoods taking root and growing to maturity after 1940 was 38 times higher in North Creek than in Zion Canyon — 892 trees per kilometer compared with 23 trees per kilometer — as reported in the journal Biological Conservation in December 2006.

What happened in 1940 that caused cottonwoods to crash in Zion Canyon? According to the scientists, the precursors to the collapse occurred a couple of decades earlier, causing a chain reaction all the way down the biotic pyramid. This "trophic cascade" -- a top-down domino effect in which carnivores affect herbivores, and herbivores affect plant biomass -- hinged on the disappearance of the big cats, which were driven to more remote reaches of the park when tourists, drawn by Zion's sculpted cliffs and canyons, began coming by the busload....."