Humans and Nature: Inspiration from an African Prairie

Zhou Zheng

PureInsight | March 2, 2008

[] The boundless universe is marvelous and contains numerous unknown realms.

In order to protect its prairie, Kenya fenced off a research site to
prevent leaf-eating elephants and giraffes from entering to feed on the
acacia trees.

A few years ago, when Todd Palmer, a zoologist at the University of
Florida, went there to investigate and found a very strange phenomenon:
instead of thriving, acacia trees that were protected from leaf-eating
elephants and giraffes were withering and dying.

Palmer and his colleagues then carried out an investigation and reported their findings in the  magazine. As reported in Scientific American,
in the absence of herbivores, the whistling acacia stopped producing
little ant houses in hollow thorns and excreting the sweet nectar that
its bodyguard ants eat. But instead of spurring more growth, the
acacias found themselves more than twice as likely to be providing a
home to another type of ant, which do not defend the trees and rely on
invasions of the bark-boring beetle larvae to build the holes in which
they dwell. The cavity-nesting antagonistic ants actually promote the
activities of the stem-boring beetle.  

The article also gave several similar examples. These findings show the
unquestionably intricate relationships between animals and plants and
that these relationships are more complicated than we thought. This adds to
the mounting evidence that relationships between plants and animals
species can be surprisingly complex and that even seemingly benign
interference can have devastating effects.

These observations definitely spurred our inspiration. When we talk
about the two major ongoing projects in China, the Three Gorges Project and the largest engineering project ever in
China, which will redirect water from the south to the north, we have
to consider the long-term effects, many of which we cannot yet imagine.
Otherwise, what will be left behind will be irreparable and calamitous.


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