SciSun: Common, Place   Leave a comment

We’ve come to expect things in our daily lives; not necessarily extravagant, unreasonable things such as a different car for every day, or our every wish to be granted, or a coffee kiosk on every corner (even though there does seem to be a coffee kiosk at every corner); but the commonness of available food whenever we’re hungry; the singing of birds, colorful flowers and majestic trees in our parks; and countless animals, from pigeons to coyotes, with whom we share the world. These every day, usual, common things we can take for granted, knowing they have always been there and they will always be there. Until one day, they aren’t. And we wonder what happened, for a few minutes appreciate what was (or try to think about where to find my coffee, now), and then we move on. But when a ‘common’ species disappears, it can revise more than just our daily schedule; it could be the forewarning of ecological change that could effect our lives forever.

It’s estimated that just under 1000 animal and plant species have gone extinct in the era of ‘modern’ civilization – from the year 1500, to today. Among the media, general public, as well as researchers and scientists (who, despite years of similar education, seldom agree on anything), some believe we are in the midst of a ‘mass extinction’, an event that has been found in Earth’s history – through the fossil record – to have happened at least five previous times, the most recent about 25 million years ago. No one knows how long these extinctions last – from thousands, to tens of thousands of years; what is certain is that all past events have been triggered by ‘natural’ events such as extreme changes in atmosphere, temperature, or geologic activity. (The ‘asteroid’ that for years has been pointed to for extinction of the dinosaurs may have been a contributor, but not the ultimate factor, to planet-wide changes that were already in process. Any asteroid large enough to change the entire chemistry, atmosphere and geology of the earth would have destroyed the planet just by impact).

Some say if we don’t know a species exists, we won’t miss it when it’s gone. No one knows how many or of what type of plants and animals ever existed, yet generally speaking if one species no longer exists in an area other species will usually take over that niche – the general function of that species in an ecosystem. There’s no replacing the uniqueness of Megatherium, the Giant Sloth; but birds, smaller sloths and even monkeys have generally taken over that Sloths’ niche. So maybe species extinction isn’t such a negative thing, if it opens opportunities for others. Of course, all previous mass extinction events we know of (not including what may be happening now) were before man and the changes we have made to our planet and its life. So maybe the burden is on us…which is why….

Some believe only by highlighting well-known, impressive species such as wolves and polar bears and the Giant Sequoia tree; sometimes referred to as ‘charismatic megafauna’ or ‘megaflora’ ; can species be saved and environments conserved. This type of taxonomic inflation; a ‘top-down’ approach where, it’s hoped individuals, organizations, and governments will rally around to protect and conserve an appealing (and often furry and cute) species, will somehow save every other plant and animal that shares that same environment.

“There's so many of us we can never go extinct! Just look behind me at all.... Hey where did everyone go?”

“There’s so many of us we can never go extinct! Just look behind me at all…. Hey, where did everyone go?”

But what’s being seen, among those who are in the field every day observing quail and trout and butterflies and spiders and native flowing plants and groves of trees, it’s these common species that more often that not are suffering and out of balance. It’s true that the presence of wolves, for example, helps maintain the deer and elk population, which leads to greater quantity and variety of plant life, creating homes and food for countless other animals; but just as accurate is when ‘common’ songbirds are removed from an area the result is uncontrolled numbers of spiders and insects, a decrease in plant variety due to reduced pollination and seed dispersal, and an overall unhealthy ecosystem. Loss of native trout, now living in less than 25% of their historic habitat, is not just the result of water pollution, development, and introduction of non-native species; but also one of the factors in the rise of mosquito and fly populations, insects that carry disease to other animals, including man.

The Earth, with all its environments and ecosystems and species is constantly changing; there’s a theory the planet itself is a giant organism that keeps itself in balance through change. Yet humans, in our misguided wisdom, sometimes think we can do it better. Maybe to the Earth, we are just another species that’s commonplace.


Michonne Says: There used to be little rock-rabbits that lived near my burrow but they said it was getting too hot and they went away. It was hot, but I didn’t think that was a reason to leave, just go underground and take a nap. But I don’t think they are much for digging. I don’t know where they went, but I never see them any more. Is that extinction? If it is I don’t like it one bit.

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