Wednesday, March 25, 2009
In a few weeks I'll return to a citizen science project I joined last year.
There's a group of dedicated volunteers in the Alberni Valley who've joined the Hummingbird Monitoring Network.
Each year teams from Arizona all the way up here to British Columbia collect information about hummingbird populations and their migration patterns.
From early April to July we put in about a dozen sessions heading out at sunrise with traps and calipers to catch hummingbirds, band them, take measurements and send them on their way. Follow this link to an article I did about the project.
I've always had some apprehension about the whole banding, radio-collaring side of biology. Now that I've seen how little effect it seems to have on rufous hummingbirds, I feel a little more like the benefits may outweigh the risks.
I also hadn't realized how little is known about what seems to be a fairly common and highly visible species.
That's something that big-name biologist Paul Erhlich talked about recently after releasing a review paper on the 408 mammals discovered since 1993. That's 10 per cent of the known species of mammals.
"Our analysis indicates how much more varied biodiversity is than we thought and how much bigger our conservation problems are if we're going to maintain the life-support services that we need from biodiversity," Ehrlich said in an interview about the paper.
Basically the author of the 1968 bad news book Population Bomb, says these discoveries attest to how little is known about the natural world. The world that a single species, humans, are busy altering in every conceivable way.
"I think what people miss is that the human economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the economy of nature, which supplies us from our natural capital a steady flow of income that we can't do without," he said. The income is the host of services that intact ecosystems provide.
Ehrlich and his wife, Anne Ehrlich are the originators of the rivet-popper hypothesis. As in an airplane, nature has some built in redundancies. So you can remove rivets on an airplane wing and still fly, but at some point, you pop one too many and the wing falls apart.
They say it's the same with natural systems. We can keep taxing them and breaking them down, but at some point they will collapse. Without a full understanding of the systems, and their components and interplay, it's anybody's guess when that will happen. What the last rivet will be.