In science classes at school I always loved those diagrams that showed interconnectedness in ecosystems or habitats, and how moving one animal or plant out of the equation could lead to other, unanticipated changes. A friend posted a link to a video the other day that does a very nice job of illustrating the role of wolves in shaping populations, habitats, and ecosystems in Yellowstone National Park.
It illustrates how the reintroduction of these predators has transformed prey populations, increased the diversity of other species, “restored” denuded habitats and, as the title suggests, changed the course of a river.
The role of wolves in shaping the Yellowstone ecosystem is an old one that has been well-documented for the last hundred odd years. Alston Chase has a most interesting book titled Playing God in Yellowstone: the Destruction of America’s First National Park that walks readers through an earlier episode of management folly, wherein ill-informed park managers and hunters destroyed the park’s predators with an aim to increasing the elk population.
The result was a fundamentally-altered habitat that led to cataclysmic die-offs of elk well beyond anything wolves could have ever caused. In contrast to this earlier disaster, the reintroduction of wolves in the last two decades—despite the controversy they inevitably spark amongst their human neighbors—has so far been to all appearances a boon for the park ecosystem.
A friend who watched the video commented, how nice it would be if the benefits of interconnectedness that were demonstrated in the natural world could be applied to our understandings of human societies. Because poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, and corrosion of our institutions and politics are not problems which remain isolated.
Eventually, in one way or another, no one will be free from their effects, and understanding that we are members of connected communities rather than disaffected individuals could go a long way toward curing our ills.