Nature's laws are a paradox at work
As I See It
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Media contact: Rodney Barreto
The nature of nature is sometimes counterintuitive
to our everyday, common-sense thought processes. This paradoxical
subject deserves far more attention than it gets.
Most people realize a healthy natural environment
depends on beneficial associations between plants, animals, soil,
climate and other factors. These relationships are often so
complex, unraveling them can take years, even decades.
Even though we at the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission (FWC) don't know everything there is to
know about nature, we do know some very important things about
Mother Nature's uncompromising character and how natural systems
and the laws of nature work to maintain healthy habitats for the
wide variety of fish and wildlife species that call Florida
An example of nature's affinity for creating a
paradox is fire. We used to think forest fires were the enemy of
wildlife. Just ask Bambi or Smokey Bear. Yet, when conservationists
researched fires, they learned that regularly occurring fires in
most Florida wildlife habitats aided wildlife to a far greater
degree than anyone imagined.
Plant diversity is a key to sustaining wildlife
long-term, and fire in Florida provides that benefit. Fires
fertilize the soil and cause the seeds of many beneficial plants to
germinate. The many plant species that sprout after a fire during
the growing season provide a balanced diet and also help ensure
that food for wildlife is available throughout the year and for
years to come.
Researchers also found that, in most cases,
wildlife is well-equipped to avoid the effects of fires and to take
full advantage of the new growth. Land managers now regularly
employ prescribed burns to improve habitat conditions for wildlife.
Who knew - besides native Indians who regularly set fire to the
FWC wildlife managers also employ mechanical and
chemical treatment of noxious vegetation to encourage the growth of
Without these management efforts, plant communities
would eventually age to the point where they become dominated by
one or two species that cannot provide enough sustenance to support
most wildlife populations on a year-round basis. In Florida, these
older plant communities tend to be dominated by vast areas composed
mainly of oak and palmetto, or monocultures of thick woods - all of
which shade out the variety of succulent native plants needed by
all sorts of creatures, from invertebrates to mammals.
The effects of floods and droughts are another
example of the paradox of nature. While floods and droughts can
cause some wildlife to perish, floodwaters act to push mucky
deposits of decaying plant and animal matter from the lake or river
bottom into the adjacent flood plain. When floodwaters recede, the
decaying matter dries and compacts in the flood plain.
Droughts benefit aquatic ecosystems when mucky
bottom sediments are exposed to sunlight and air. The exposed
sediments dry and compact and, even when re-flooded, remain hard.
These hardened bottom soils are perfect spawning areas for sport
fish, while providing both a medium for rooted native plants that
cleanse the water and habitat for invertebrates that feed sport
In concert, the alternating processes of flood and
drought are required to maintain a viable functioning aquatic
environment. Where flood-control efforts have interrupted the
natural cleansing process produced by cycles of flood and drought,
FWC lake managers conduct artificial droughts called drawdowns.
These trained professionals oversee heavy equipment that scrapes
mucky sediments, which are too thick for Mother Nature to cure. In
areas that have been scraped and re-flooded, native aquatic
vegetation can be replanted or allowed to re-establish on its
These natural disturbances - and their human-made
simulations - are a paradoxical necessity in the grand scheme of
maintaining a healthy environment for native wildlife and fish.
There are many other facets of nature's law and
animal behavior that follow this pattern of paradox. Needless to
say, nature's sometimes violent ways don't follow the expectations
of the human heart. However, understanding the role these events
play is a basis for developing an appreciation of the
uncompromising, resilient spirit of nature - and a key to embracing
its glorious paradox.