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Divided: Functional Redundancy versus Prevention Thursday, March 6, 2008

Posted by Grace in strange days.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Natural systems, as well as the organisms residing in them, are constantly subject to stressors.  Organisms of one trophic level prey upon those of lower levels, compete with each other for limited resources, and compete with others on their level that infringe upon their niche.

In populations and systems, there is a degree of redundancy in the roles played by organisms. Chlorella is not the singular primary producer in a system, it will not be the only food source for an organism in a higher trophic level, and if it’s population decreased due to distress the system it lived in would adapt. Another algae would become more predominant because there would be extra space in the top of the water column where the Chlorella used to be, and so get more sun than it did before.

Nature is a flux. Different environmental stressors have come and passed, some big and some small. There have been ice ages, droughts, floods, storms and fires. Though there were extinctions, niches were filled, and life continued. With industrialization and pollution worldwide though, it raises some questions.

Functional redundancy suggests that a system can deal with stresses that decrease biodiversity, they can and have happened, because there are other organisms present that can move to fill the newly opened niche. Change is constant, and multiple populations serving very similar purposes allow systems to continue in times of adversity.

Prevention principles assume that all environmental pressures are detrimental. That each species plays a unique and vital role, and that loss of biodiversity will inevitably lead to system failure. Organisms have their specific niche, and via a loss of biodiversity, when a niche opens the it cannot be filled by another organism to its exact specificity. Something else will take over, but it cannot take over completely.

This much I’ve been lectured in during class for Toxicology. My classmates seem to be taking these views to extremes. Opinions are either that Everything matters. Every drop of pollution counts. Or that We can just let it all on its own. Everything will be fine.

Generally, I’m possessed of a rather moderate point of view, and in this case I am no different.

I can see that there is functional redundancy. There are only a number of roles to play, and a much greater biodiversity to fill those roles. As stated above, Chorella is not the only primary producer in a system. It’s not going to be the only algae, and I’d wager its not going to be the only chlorophyte.  But it seems a little more than incredulous to suggest that under extremes of pressure that functional redundancy would keep a system going.

Prevention has to play a role as well. Not everything can be prevented, by any means; but when there are disposal methods available for toxic substances that render them less harmful, there is no good excuse to dump them into rivers and lakes.

There is going to be a point where functional redundancy isn’t going to keep an ecosystem sustainable, but there is also a point when being hyperactive about stressors on the environment is going to be unrealistic and impossible. Turning a blind eye to gross pollution is not a solution, but neither is extreme control. It can’t be one or the other, it needs to be a bit of both.

Anyone else in the sphere have an opinion?

Song of the Day: Divided – Tegan and Sarah



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