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Nature's Design
In the midst of ecology's chaos there is process and there is principle. It is the process that we observe in order to understand the principles, and it is the principles that guide us towards sensible and efficient design.
Wherever a perturbation invades an existing ecosystem, be it a road-cut or a landslide, the process of colonization and regeneration begins again. In this newly established and immature ecosystem diversity is minimal and energy is wasted. The first objective is to stabilize the area and begin conserving all entering energies including sunlight, water, and wind. From the soil emerges the pioneer species - plants such as thistle, brambles, and alder. As these plants colonize the area they manifest over the soil an ever-increasing surface area of leaves capable of intercepting the sun's powerful energy while transforming and storing it within their community. In the process of stabilizing the formerly denuded area the pioneer species prepare the way for an increasing diversity of higher plants. These in turn invite the participation of insects, birds, and other animals and with these participants comes a new flush of nutrients thereby setting into motion an increasingly complex panoply of interactions.
As the ecosystem evolves, random distribution gives way to a mutualistic order as elements begin arranging themselves in proximity to the species and other processes that will support them. Eventually the pioneering plants absolve themselves and are replaced by those species capable of performing a wider range of functions. As the ecosystem matures the efficiency with which wastes are recycled and external influencing energies are conserved increases to the point where a steady state occurs and a climax condition is achieved. At this point evolution slows as maximum sustainability is achieved.
In the words of Paul Hawken, "In a climax system, the greater part of evergy is devoted to the continuation of the existing plant and animal communities, since all of the ecosystem is, in fact, colonized and inhabited. All present agriculture, whether it is slash-and-burn or sod breaking, involves the reversion of a climax system to a pioneering one. We exchanged stability and sustainability for short-term abundance and production."
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