October 23, 2012
Ecomimicry Design: Humans Must Become a “Keynote Species”
Humans need to interact with their environment in the same way that keystone species do.
We believe we are the only species on the planet that is unsustainable, that overuses resources, that destroys the environments we inhabit, and cause other organisms to go extinct. But the truth is that we are not. In fact, a list of others animals (and plants) are just as unsustainable as we are. The only difference is that they are keystone species and we are not. Becoming a keystone species is a fundamental component to ecomimicry. It is at the heart of creating a society and infrastructure that’s aligned with the natural world. Keystone species are species that hold an entire habitat together by their presence. Inversely, when they are absent from a location, the habitat begins to breakdown. Take for example the beaver . These little creatures are extremely unsustainable. Once they find a mate and an occupy a creek, tributary or stream, they get to work building a dam and lodge. To do this, they must saw down all available trees within close proximity to their home. Within a season or two, the surrounding landscape looks like a tornado hit it. A stand of forest is reduced to a collection of stumps. A beaver family will turn vibrant riverine habitat with healthy banks, fish runs, and flora in to a flooded plan for their pond. This level of destruction has been found to cause local extinction of some plant species dependent on riverbanks.
Beavers are smart animals, and will not stop at just destroying the near abutting terrain. They dig canals deep into the forests to reach more trees. They create the waterways, swim to the next stand of saplings, chew through the trunks and flood them back to their homestead. It’s an ingenious feat of engineering . It is also highly unsustainable. Through their actions, they exhaust all of their resources over a period of 3 to 7 years to the point they most abandon their lodge and dam to find new fertile ground. In their wake, vanquished woodland of 18 inch tall stubs and drown forest floor. Though they are extremely unsustainable, beavers are also keystone species. In their destruction, they create new niches, and are essential into the changing dynamic of forests. Biodiversity springs anew from their actions. In fact, they are so joined to the bionetwork, they contribute to its overall health. They seem to have no problem being unsustainable either… no initiatives to conserve trees or remit dam construction. No efforts to recycle branches, twigs or bark. They do what they do without shame or remorse. They are both unsustainable and the underpinning of biological life.
This is the goal of ecomimicry–to move us toward being keystone species. It is less important to be sustainable and more important to be keystone species. Doing so causes a shift in how our actions interact and affect the natural world. It allows the intelligence and functionality of ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural systems to provide infrastructural tasks at no cost (or at worst, a fraction of the cost of man-made infrastructure). Moreover, being a keystone species means we have a positive active role in the ecology surrounding us.
Ecological services are not a new idea. These types of services are described as the side effects of healthy natural areas. For example, healthy woodlands can create cleaner air. A well-maintained watershed can keep drinking water clean and prevent erosion. Wetlands can reduce the risk of flooding. The standard relationship humans have with ecological services is a one-way street of nature providing a service to us. Us being a keystone species effectively enlarge that relationship into a two-way street of give and take where we also provide services to nature.
Neil Chambers, LEED-AP is the CEO and Founder of Chambers Design, a research-based, contemporary design company, focused on next generation architectural and technological solutions based in DUMBO Brooklyn. He is the author of Urban Green: Architecture for the Future . Neil’s work includes urban design, green building design, energy assessment, master planning and habitat restoration. He is interested in the relationship between ecosystems, ecological services, buildings and infrastructure. He has taught at NYU and FIT as well as spoken throughout the United States and around the world. Join the conversation on Facebook.