Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Delicate Balance by Sarah Nuss

            Sitting on the bus to Palo Verde Biological Station, with the imminent promise of clouds of mosquitos and scorpions scattered throughout the station’s campus, it was hard not to wonder why we were on our way to such a seemingly unpleasant area. However, after a short six days at the station, it became evident to me that some things are better left to teach for themselves through experience rather than in a classroom. For me, the diverse and rare ecosystem balance at Palo Verde was one of those things. Although I did spend my fair share of time frantically avoiding mosquito swarms (and luckily had no scorpion encounters), I found that by the end of the week I was able to appreciate the complex balance of an ecosystem and its relationship with humans much more.
            Time and time again we are reminded of and urged to promote the importance of conserving nature – for natural resources, for beauty, to reduce climate change, to keep wildlife diversity – the list goes on and on. However, we often picture environmental destruction to always be caused intentionally by malicious humans. Yet, Palo Verde demonstrates a case where just the mere presence of humans (even those with the best intentions) can create a huge impact on the ecosystem. When humans (including researchers) started living in the area near Palo Verde and changing the patterns of destruction of cattails, there was an incredible cattail invasion that left only two species of plants in the wetland area. Because Palo Verde is such a unique ecosystem of a wetland surrounded by dry forest, it is home to many diverse and unique species, including migrating birds that could no longer find the wetland due to the invasive cattails. Although the changes due to human arrival seemed small (changes in irrigation and moving cattle that fed in the area), it has created a huge environmental change that persists as a challenge even today.
            Just standing on the boardwalk at Palo Verde that overlooked the vast expanse of wetlands, made me appreciate how delicate the balance between humans and nature is, and even the balance within nature itself. It was hard to believe that the miles of land in front of me could be completely taken over in such a short time, and it made me wonder about how different the ecosystems throughout the world would be without humans. 


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