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Eye on Nature
Change is a constant in ecology and life

Wally Shriner
MHCC biology instructor

With the weight of global tragedies and local politics on my mind, everything I see or think about takes on a new hue and meaning.  In my Ecology of the Tropics course, a discussion of ecological succession becomes a timely and sensitive one with my students from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.  The text’s description of fires, volcanoes, and hurricanes as “ ecosystem change agents” strikes a hollow chord of euphemism.  My once abstract statement that “destruction of one habitat and the death of  resident individuals creates opportunities for others” suddenly is loaded with unintended significance.  The application of the biological lesson to recent events is not lost on the class.

Yet as I look out onto the classroom I see that these students, like most of our students, are eager change agents themselves.  They are as resilient as the ecosystems we are discussing--ready to play a role in regeneration--like the seeds lying dormant in the soil of a newly burned forest, the roots and shoots left behind after volcanic lahars and pyroclastic flows, or the fruits in adjacent habitats tempting animal dispersers.

In ecological systems, as in socio-political ones, change is the only constant.  The falling of a forest giant is as inevitable as it is necessary for the life of the seedling, striving for a taste of sun.  Small consolation, perhaps, for individuals impacted by small and large events, but a natural truth nonetheless.  In the deep of winter, when cold rain mixes with tragedy, signs that life continues on are always welcome.  And strength gained from the knowledge that we and our world are resilient can sooth us.

Wally Shriner has been an MHCC instructor since 1999 and writes a column each month on our connection to nature.

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