Asha de Vos

Marine Biologist, The University of California Santa Cruz

This conversation is closed.

Everything on this earth is so closely intertwined that when we drive a species to extinction, we are spelling our own demise.

As a biologist I study webs of things and this is something I strongly believe in. We think that just because something is not an immediate part of our day to day life, its destruction will have no impact on us as humans - but I don't think thats correct. I am keen to have lots of input on this idea and examples and thoughts :)

  • Apr 18 2012: I do agree that human-kind must be thoughtful about nature, though in a deeper sense.

    I grew up on ranches where a person is in constant contact with nature. I went through a short spell of shooting different animals, but primarily rabbits. Anyway, my father told me during this time, "I don't want you killing things for the sake of killing them," a time that I was a brainless teenager, "Man is an active part of nature and has a significant impact on his surroundings." He followed this with, "Lets use coyotes and rabbits for an example. In one day nine rabbits can destroy as much grass as a cow will eat in the same day. Now, if you kill every rabbit you see then the coyotes will kill more of our calves, but if you kill every coyote you see then the rabbit population skyrockets destroying more grass. If you are going to be shooting things then you have to stay aware of natures balance."

    Therefore, the act of killing and saving species can have a negative impact doing more harm than good. When someone interjects themselves into nature then their emotions must be restrained and actions based on reason. If this cannot be done then they must restrain from being an active part of nature.
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    Apr 22 2012: This is a brief synopsis of James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis, from Wiki:

    "The Gaia hypothesis, also known as Gaia theory or Gaia principle, proposes that all organisms and their inorganic surroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form a single and self-regulating complex system, maintaining the conditions for life on the planet."

    I have always thought it plausible that the kind of relationships and 'webs' you study, Asha, and the Gaia hypothesis are very likely to point to the interrelated nature and symbiotic relationships between things, on a global scale.

    Our own body and mind rely on complex internal and external relationships. The theory that our planet does too, seems very convincing to me.
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      Apr 23 2012: Thanks for the quote Allan--
      I agree. While its hard for us to find a direct link between the demise of a particular species of ant and ourselves, it exists. The world is way more complex than we like to think...in some ways I think we find it convenient to think its not all connected. That way destruction doesn't leave us with a sense of guilt.
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    Apr 20 2012: I smell a TED-Ed talk here. Maybe something about food webs. Or, maybe a lesson about a species that is now extinct and how it affected the ecosystem. This is an incredibly important conversation...
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      Apr 22 2012: Thanks Jordan --
      Your snifflies are correct. I think its an incredibly important topic...I think the problem with humans is that we make ourselves the epi-center of everything....so we think that only what we do to ourselves is a problem. We forget that there is such a thing as a domino effect!
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    Apr 23 2012: I have sushi and become part of the millions wiping out Blue Fin tuna. I buy any chocolate and ever so slightly help keep the coca bean child slavers in business. On and on and on... It's not enough to be concerned. Individuals who care must act. if enough people stop buying, things change. No amount of "we must talk" will change anything. I haven't got one but there ought to be a list
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    Apr 22 2012: I think the thing is that yes, the ecosystem does adapt to changes and yes it has been around for a whole lot of time BUT my point is that we are making changes occur faster...can the ecosystem really adapt to the speed at which we are making changes?
    To be honest, I don't have a problem with humans going extinct, but I think we are causing so much havoc in the system around us before we leave the planet and thats more what I question. Are we causing more damage than the ecosystem can 'effectively' recover from?
    Here is a great quote from a great man that pretty much says the same thing 'but more eloquently'
    Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.- Chief Seattle

    Ok let's stop talking about the extinction of humans then...but lets talk of the damage we do to ourselves by damage we do to our ecosystem...
  • Apr 22 2012: I'm pretty sure that at one time, there were no bees. Even so, we still have flora and fauna. Like I said, our ecosystem has a way of taking care of itself. If all the bees disappeared in one single day, that might cause a problem. But that's not the way things work. The same people that stand behind the the theory of adaptation and survival of the fittest are are always the first the cry over environmental changes and how the changes will be catastrophic. I don't buy it, I'm a believer that our ecosystem is resilient and even has redundant safety systems built right in. I'm not a biologist, just a layman with opinions, so I know that I could be so off that I'm actually in the wrong ballpark. Life has flourished for the last few million years here on earth, despite any catastrophe that we can theorize has happened to it. In addition, my main point was that extinction is part of the ecosystem. Things come and go all the time. But the world keeps on bringing forth life. Worrying about species becoming extinct is more of a human sentimental problem than a natural problem. Nature doesn't seem to care if X exists or not. When X is gone, there will be Y to take it's place. When we're gone, some other species will soon rise to take our place. It's like when you are at your job. If you quit or get fired, there will be someone to take your place the next day.
  • Apr 21 2012: My comment was tongue in cheek, mainly because I don't like alligators, or cats or dogs. My only real point is that the ecosystem, the biology of our planet will continue on. Species come, species go. Millions of years of refinement can vanish without reason at any time. Imagine how long it took amoebas to become dinosaurs. It took a lot of time, the dino's were very advanced and now they are gone. But the earth still turns, the sun still shines just like nothing ever occurred. I'm also a christian, so I believe that all that we know is created and created for a purpose. I know that I just got all goofy there, but it makes sense to me. So I don't worry too much about critters dying out, because something will take their place.
    • Apr 21 2012: While it is certainly true that on the vast timescale of geological history species evolve and go extinct all the time, I have seen a convincing argument that during the end Permian extinction event one of the things that caused it to be the biggest mass extinction EVER was the cascading effect of so many species going extinct at the same time.

      A metaphor I came across some time ago was imagining that the global ecosytem is a bit like an aeroplane. We are riding in the aeroplane and through our actions we are knocking out the odd rivet here and there. 'Doesn't matter if we knock this rivet out, the plane still flies. That rivet we can afford to lose as well...' Eventually we reach a point where so many rivets have been knocked out that the plane ceases to fly. In our modern world what would happen to our agriculture system if all the bees went extinct? What/who would pollinate our crops then? Which is a scary thought I think you'll agree.
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    Apr 20 2012: maybe -- but maybe some might be resilient to the changes....some have large temperature tolerances etc
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    Apr 20 2012: Hi Everyone
    Thanks for the healthy discussion. As this is an idea, debate is what I am looking for. There is no right or wrong answer and we are all entitled to our own thoughts.
    I think Vince and William clarified my thoughts a bit better in parts of their responses. I am referring to the fact that We as a species are speeding up and DRIVING things to extinction. The speed at which human kind is causing changes means nature and the environment don't have time to recover from the changes.....it doesn't go back to equilibrium before the next change and therefore it is more vulnerable to negative impacts.
    I realise that natural processes also take their toll but through this we are hastening the natural process. The thing is that in general humans only seem to care if it means it has an effect/impact on our own species.
    I want to hear more.
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    Apr 19 2012: When and if humans drive some species to extinction upon which we (unknowingly) are dependent, humans will do one of two things: adapt or die. No matter what, change proceeds and inevitably the human species will do what 99.99 percent of all species do, evolve in unrecognizable life-forms (over a long time frame) or die (in a relatively short time-frame). Can humanity adapt fast enough for some remnant to live on when civilization collapses? Probably. Not necessarily. As for *civilization* surviving, I wouldn't put money down on ours existing in 200 years (not very long considering the modern human race is about 80,000 years old.) Between nuclear weapons, biological agents, antibiotic existence, political paralysis, and so on, the odds for our civilization aren't very good. Both in Australia and in North and South America, waves of humans resulted in the extermination of a host of large mammals (mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, etc, etc.). Humans (Aborigines and 'native Americans') survived. However, in the event of a collapse of civilization, the ensuing mess might more closely resemble that of a city starving in seige --- first eaten are the cows, then the horses, then the dogs, then the rats, then the mice -- and finally other human beings.
  • Apr 18 2012: Things come and they go. That is the way of nature. As a biologist and a James Randi fan, I'm surprised that you even asked this question. Species cease all the time. New species take their place. For example, i truly think that if alligators became extict tomorrow, we would never even notice. They serve no useful purpose and just exist basically to exist. Same thoughts on dogs. If all dogs vanished today, what impact would that make on the the world's ecological framework? I don't think it would matter. Include housecats also. They are pampered, hand fed and do nothing. There is no species that is required for our planet. Life will go on without them. We, as humans, just have a sentimental value placed on them. To us, they are precious and irreplaceable. But they are just milestones in earth's history. They come and they go.
    • Apr 18 2012: I agree with a lot of what you've said.
      Species do cease, all the time, but it took thousands of years for them to 'get specialised', to evolve to that point that they are distinct, yet part of a stable eco-structure.
      Nonetheless, they DO dissappear, every day. mostly thanks to us humans.

      As for their 'usefulness', who are we to decisively state what their function is?
      Dogs and cats have been selectively bred to serve US!
      And we can't say with ANY confidence at all, what our own 'function' is, that's still up to the philosophers to decide.

      I think the point that Asha is making is that : As a species, we're changing everything faster than we've EVER realised, and there isn't anything to 'fill the gap' left in the biosphere of the 'natural' world, once a species has been removed.

      (By the way, if dogs were to suddenly disappear, what would we do with all the food by-products, chemical additives and petro-chemical by-products we put into dog food? What would we do with all the corn we use as fillers? (Its not fit for human consumption.) I would think that these industries have, cumulatively, an immense impact upon the earth.)
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      Apr 19 2012: It is hard to believe you're a biologist. If you were you knew better.
      What have cats and dogs have to do with the subject?
      "If alligators are extinct you wouldn't notice", what has this remark to say about the natural environment they live in?
    • Apr 19 2012: I am not a biologist, but it seems to me that perhaps there are things about nature we fully don't undestand...food chains, and effects of species disappearing, hmm. I'm just not too sure I am convinced by your words.
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      May 1 2012: Hi Casey, your comment only shows how little you understand about the interdependency of different organisms in this planet.

      "what if all plants, disappear tomorrow"? you almost seem to imply when you say that there are no species required on this planet. well, i think we all know what would happen in such case.

      the fact that humans are indeed not a required species does nothing to undermine the inter-dependencies that do exist
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    Apr 18 2012: Doesn't extinction also happen through natural selection as well?
    What happens then ?
    • Apr 18 2012: I will have to answer you here, since I cannot highjack my own reply button....Salim, wonderful story on the critical thinking conversation..

      Now as far a this conversation goes.....Wonderful question by Asha......James Kindler started a conversation as to connections as well.....from a different point of view.

      I will be interested to read Asha's reply to you, as well as what others have to say.

      I will play spectator on this one.

      Be Well......what is ransom price for getting my reply button back? LOL
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        Apr 19 2012: Thanks for your compliments.....!!

        Very high stake ransom price I am ready to pay which is you have free hand to use any of my REPLY buttons anytime , in any conversations here at your convenience ...........is that enough? :)
        • Apr 19 2012: Salim, how very kind of you.....but, my friend, do you think it wise?

          I might just take you up on it one day.........hope you will not be sorry :)

          hee hee =)

          Have a wonderful day!!!
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        Apr 19 2012: We need not to be wise all the time.....that's boring...:(

        Many times we need to be funny, fool , dumb as well........ok I shouldn't say "WE" better to say "I"...:)

        No worry my friend ...just move forward with the call from heart , I am practicing patience, you can help me out by doing so......ha ha ha

        Have an enjoable day. Cheers
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    Apr 18 2012: Asha

    Could i ask a question?

    As a biologist,how would sewage from my country affect Sri lanka's sea life? and your views of the southern hemisphere's oceans.
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      Apr 20 2012: Sewage in your country could be taken up as ballast in ships and then the ships will travel across the world to our shores and release it there. When that happens there might be stuff in your sewage that our marine environment cannot tolerate such as bacteria etc. this then has an effect out the sea life in sri lanka. hope this helps.
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        Apr 20 2012: May be those bateria will be unable to survive in new environment with differences in salinity......