Saturday, January 27, 2007

Buddy Rocks

For tens of thousands of years humans lived in the landscape without computers, mobile phones or ipods. For much of that time there wasn't formal 'science' as we consider it today - that is an invention of the last few hundred years.

But human survival depended much more on being able to observe, and interpret, the natural environment. If you read the myths and stories of any native culture, the one thing you notice is an extraordinary attempt to explain the world around them.

Today we seem to be losing our ability to interpret the environment. Nowadays we can get food without being able to track prey, distinguish berries, or reliably find edible roots. Part of an ecologists training is to reconnect with this connection to the environment and the first step is to rediscover our powers of obervation.

There was a nice example of this in the Chronicle today. In the northern part of Yellowstone the habitat is mainly sage grassland with scattered Douglas Fir trees. If you look closely at the picture above you'll notice that every single tree is adjacent to a boulder. Coincidence? Friendship? No, the explanation for this pattern, that many people have probably seen without ever noticing, is that the boulders create the only suitable 'safe sites' or microenvironments where the seedlings can survive the harsh conditions.