Guelph Talks Food – Ecological Entanglement: Spooky Action at a Distance

Guelph Talks Food – Ecological Entanglement: Spooky Action at a Distance


My name is Kevin McCann. I’m an ecologist in the department of integrative biology. So where I’m going take off actually follows right from that. He just was talking about plant communication. Basically, I’m gonna step back and talk about how nature’s connectivity impacts sustainability. Okay, and my title of the talk, ecological entanglement: spooky action at a distance. It kind of gives you the punchline right there. Basically, I stole this from physicists Physicists just… I just was reading an article in the paper the last week and there’s this thing called quantum entanglement. Quantum entanglement is this notion where two particles separated by vast distances still sort of speak to each other. An action on one yields an action on others, much like the plants. Well we’re gonna see today that this in fact happens in ecological systems as well. Einstein called that spooky action at a distance, because it was this mysterious connection. What I’m going argue is that in fact in ecological systems, when we’re trying to understand agricultural sustainability there is indeed this exact same thing happening. We have sort of we do things on the field, and then we have spooky actions way away in a far-off ecosystem. If we’re truly going to understand agricultural sustainability, we need to kind of wrestle with this. The answer is going to be that it’s all through connections that we actually understand. And I’m going to give you one example that you’re all familiar with but I want to I want to emphasize there’s many types of examples where we have this sort of local actions. We do something on a farm, for example, add fertilizer, and we have spooky distant actions elsewhere. So what we have here is Lake Erie 2011. That sort of pea green water is an example of ecosystem imbalance. It’s a costly ecosystem imbalance. Algae has grown to an enormous density. Whenever anything in ecosystem grows to enormous density, that’s sort of the hallmark of ecological imbalance. So two things happen that’s costly here. One, often toxins. A lot of these algae that grow and flourish end up being toxic, and so they poison our water. A second thing happens that’s also sort of part of the connectivity of an ecosystem. This algae flourishes, it grows, and eventually it senesces. As it senesces, it settles to the bottom of the lake. At the bottom of the lake, there actually is very little air, and wind mixing, so it’s already not super high in oxygen. Bacteria, doing the its thing that it’s supposed to do, colonizes the dead algae. So why we see all this green up top, there’s sort of brown system way down on the bottom with bacteria taking off. The bacteria consumes oxygen and therefore leaves behind a massive dead zone. It consumes so much oxygen that virtually there’s none left. In this case 2011 I think it was thirty eight hundred square kilometres of dead zone and algae. So the cost to both water quality, but also fisheries, is enormous. So what’s the spooky action at a distance? Well, this is an agricultural issue and it’s a fundamental one. We’re gonna kind of back off and take a look at it here. But basically, what happens is we fall a bit of fertilizer somewhere on this cartoon landscape, say hundreds of kilometres away from Lake Erie, some of that fertilizer doesn’t get
used. So the fertilizer moved through rain, gets pushed into nature’s transport system, which are the streams and rivers. And there that fertilizer moves through, sometimes will go through certain biotic cycles, but eventually in some form, will move through streams and rivers and end up in the ultimate receptacle, Lake Erie, potentially hundreds of kilometres away. That’s the spooky action at a distance. Locally put on fertilizer, nature through its connectivity moves it through the landscape and it lands in Lake Erie where the previous slide unfolds, because of that. Basically what’s happening is unused fertilizer finally does its job but it’s doing its job in the wrong place, right, it’s doing it in the lake okay. So the next thing I’ve kind of wanted to sort of say, so that’s right in our backyard, but the issue is, is this happening in a lot of places? What’s going on globally? So what this is the 2018 science paper here, and all the sort of red pink shading show you zones that of oxygen, massive oxygen depletion. The largest finger being pointed here is really is at agriculture. There’s also a finger being pointed at climate change. So basically this article and a few other articles have argued since the 50s the number of deadzones globally has quadrupled, and most of that is due to agriculture. On the right-hand side I’m just showing you an example of a pristine coral reef and below it what people now called microbialized ecosystems in the ocean. Why do they call them microbialized? It’s the same issue as in Lake Erie where you have microbes take over, and a lot of the diversity is sort of taken away. I kind of basically raised this issue to sort of show that one of the things that we here at the University of Guelph are trying to do is what clearly we need to feed a growing planet, But what we’re arguing here is that this is one of the fundamental environmental sustainability issues that agriculture has to wrestle with. I want to end on a positive note: One interesting aspect of connectivity is that in the same sense that bad local actions, or, not properly managed local actions, precipitate regional imbalance and even global imbalance, it also sort of means that if you act local, you’re in a sense acting regionally and acting globally. So you can reverse it and sort of say, we do the right thing locally, it will move through nature’s connected networks to actually yield you know balanced ecosystem, sustainable environmental conditions. So I think we basically what we’re arguing is there’s a solution to this. I want to end by making a plug for 25 plus researchers at the University of Guelph that are a team of scientists that span a from right on the field to whole eco- biogeochemical cycles like Dr. Merritt Turetsky. We’re working on a common problem, just like physicists worked on common problems way back when. This is a significant common problem, and we kind of as a team are coming together to kind of try to actually take a, you know, a stab at solving this. Hopefully in about five years, we’ll be able to come back, we’ll be able to say some real positive things about this. Thank you. Guelph Talks: Food
at the University of Guelph
foodfromthought.ca

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *