Last week, a group of researchers published saddening news about "sudden oak death," spread by an invasive water mold, that has killed over a million trees in coastal California. The pathogen, they found, simply cannot be stopped — though it can still be contained, and the harm mitigated. But it is too extensively established now in California to eradicate.
Beavers are one of nature's most industrious engineers. Using branches and mud, the intrepid animals create dams that slow moving water. In New York's Hudson Valley, their constructions are a common sight on streams and in wetlands.
Beavers, once valued for their fur, may soon have more appreciation in the Northeastern United States. There they are helping prevent harmful levels of nitrogen from reaching the area's vulnerable estuaries. By creating ponds that slow down the movement of water, they aid in removing nitrogen from the water.
Sustainability came into vogue in 1987, with the publication of a UN report called Our Common Future, which defined sustainable development as: "Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Many species, including humans, change the physical structure of the non-living world, profoundly changing the functioning of ecosystems. How might we use an understanding of ecosystem engineering in species and ecosystem management?
Acorn production catalyzes chain reactions in a complex web of species interactions in oak forests that can influence forest health, via Gypsy Moth outbreaks, human health, via Lyme disease risk, and biodiversity via songbird nesting success. What are these and other acorn connections?
Ecological engineering combines ecological understanding of the functioning of human-natural coupled systems with engineering to design management practices that are environmentally, socially and economically viable and sustainable.