David Quammen on Biodiversity


Not sure if you’ve read David Quammen, but he’s one of my favorite writers on this stuff. He’s very strong on the idea that preserving “islands” of healthy ecosystem– parks, preserves, etc– is ultimately not a sustainable model. Here’s a good quote on this from one of his articles:

“But MacArthur and Wilson added an important new element to the tradition of looking at islands. They posited that not just literal islands but all isolated, islandlike fragments of ecosystem are likely to end up with fewer species because extinctions of species will outnumber new arrivals. According to the MacArthur- Wilson theory, you could take a piece of natural ecosystem on any continent, turn it into a virtual island (a national park or a nature reserve, for instance, surrounded by cornfields or pavement), and in the fullness of time, that island also would become biologically impoverished. Inexorably, without further human tampering, species will disappear. Extinctions will be many, immigrations will be few. The original richness of the ecosystem will be lost.”

I think we could apply this concept to the idea of improving schools without also improving the communities they’re a part of. A healthy school in a toxic environment is ultimately going to reflect the toxicity of its environment and become “biologically impoverished.” Just some more food for thought…

3 thoughts on “David Quammen on Biodiversity

  1. Yes, this ties in with the ecological principal of interconnections and interdependencies of all living things. Bill Mollison also stresses the dire need to immediately stop cultivating all available land and to allow large portions of wilderness to go untended in order to maintain that equilibrium that MacArthur and Wilson pointed out. The ethics of natural systems is thus, according to Mollison:
    1. “Implacable and uncompromising opposition to further disturbance of any remaining natural forests, where most remaining species are still in balance;
    2. Vigorous rehabilitation of degraded and damaged natural systems to stable states;
    3. Establishment of plant systems for our own use on the LEAST amount of land we can use for our own existence; and
    4. Establishment of plant and animal refuges for rare or threatened species”


  2. I think in terms of our work, equilibrium could function in two ways:

    1. School communities require internal equilibrium to thrive– equilibrium within the curriculum, equilibrium in terms of student support (academic, social/emotional, physical).

    2. School communities also require external equilibrium– equilibrium in the wider communities. Even a model school is ultimately limited in its impact when students live in communities that are out of balance– physically or emotionally hazardous or fragmented, economically out-of-balance, etc. Such schools are like the ecological islands that Quammen is writing about– they're valuable, but in the long term, doomed (through no fault of their own).


  3. I think this point on maintaining equilibrium within a school speaks to the necessity for strong school leadership that is able to “shield” a school ecosystem from political and policy blindsides in order to best cultivate nurturing, support, and trust and enable the teachers to focus on teaching.


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