1991 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute
|Canopy photosynthesis||Transfer of leaf nutrients to litter||Dormant period||Rapid growth of understory plants|
|Understory photosynthesis reduced||Fruit drops (food for consumers, seed dispersal||Nutrients in storage as leaf litter, fruit, and animal fat||Release of nutrients from litter (bacteria,fungi)|
|Transfer of nutrients to leaves||Indirect consumption by carnivores||Respiration exceeds photosynthesis|| |
|Conversion:of leaves into biomass|| || ||Understory microclimate variable|| |
|Understory microclimate fairly uniform|| || || |
The main features of this program are taught at the introductory level by David Laffie, THE ENVIRONMENTAL SOCIETY P.O. Box 5 COLOANE, MACAU, and is referred to as "permaculture." The principles of permaculture, based on the work of Australian scientists Bill Mollison and David Holgren, were utilized in an actual design project by Max O. Lindegger in his Crystal Waters Community project in Australia.
The model for this revolutionay design is based on the structure of old growth forests. This natural system has developed of millions of years and results in stability and yields which surpass those of agriculture. The main characteristics in the yearly cycle of a typical deciduous forest is shown in the diagram on the second page.
The interface between one cycle and the next is the leaf litter on the forest floor. Here the fungus and the bacteria decompose the the litter formed in one cycle (leaves, animal waste, and dead animal bodies) into nutrients for the next. The litter supplies the earth beneath with nutrients. The earth itself is a living substance (an investigation of the Gaia hypothesis may be a good extension at this point) which further transforms the nutrients into usable substances. The root sytem transfers the nutrients from the soil back into the vegetation in preparation for the next growth cycle. (Other forests, such as the coniferous forests and temperate rain forests follow similar cycles of decomposition and regeneration of nutrients.)
I discussed this information with my students and their learning about ecosystems conceptualized. After an in--depth study of the forest cycle, students made the important connections between the interactions of biological, physical and chemical parameters which lead to the stability of this balanced system. Placing humans,their industry and housing into this scenario shows how this self--sustaining cycle can quickly disintegrate with catastrophic environmental consequences. The idea is therefore to use the forest cycle principles in the actual design of housing and industry.
The insights the students made during the project brought the realtiy of the ecosystem to them. No longer were they (man) outside observers but they found themselves intricately interwoven in every aspect , every cycle, every dimension of their planet.