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Unnatural balance

Posted on July 6, 2009

All attention is on "green" these days. John Kricher, Wheaton's Howard Meneely Professor of Biology, knows all about the complexity of green, having spent most of his life studying ecology.

In his recently released book The Balance of Nature: Ecology's Enduring Myth, he gets provocative by challenging the long-held belief that there is a "balance of nature." Who doesn't know not to mess with Mother Nature, right? Well, Kricher says, "The balance of nature is simply comfort food for the human mind." The environment is not static, "it never has been, it never will be" or evolution never would have taken place. That's what he told host Mark Lynch on WICN public radio (90.5-FM) in Worcester, Mass., when he was interviewed on the program "Inquiry."

Kricher was in his element. He writes a great deal about ecology and natural history and has authored three ecology field guides to various regions of North America. At Wheaton, he teaches a variety of courses in ecology and evolution that include a historical perspective emphasizing the history of life on Earth.

In The Balance of Nature, he traces the history of the science of ecology and evolutionary biology and how we developed the notion that there is a balance of nature. The host asked what led him to write this book.

"I started in ecology back when I was in high school when I first got interested in it because of birding," said Kricher. "I began my graduate career in 1966 and joined the Ecological Society of America. So I think I had a very good background in basic ecology. And as I thought about it I focused more and more on what actually had I learned in a career in ecology. I think that's what brought me largely to a focus on a balance of nature and how ecologist have really treated nature. One of the curious things is, of course, you ask any ecologists what's really important and the ecologist will ultimately say we need to preserve biodiversity. But one of the things that struck me was ecologist have never really been able to explain in clear scientific terms why we need to preserve biodiversity. And the implication has always been that there has always been a balance of nature."

He notes that to be able to make the best environmental policies regarding our ecosystems, it is important to understand that nature is dynamic, complex and ever changing. To hear more, listen to the interview at http://www.wicn.org/audio/inquiry-john-kricher.

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