Sunday, December 3, 2017

Lessons from Zebra Mussels



Life experiences can teach you lessons for as long as you live and remember.


I studied the effects of zebra mussels on the phosphorus-chlorophyll relationship in Lake Erie as an undergraduate. Back then, the natural world was all I could handle. People confused and scared me because I grossly lacked experience, assertiveness and confidence in myself. That lake and its inhabitants offered me a safe place to explore and discover many amazing things.


That was decades ago. I have many more miles on my odometer of life now, and I find myself looking back at that time with new eyes. Today, I live hundreds of miles from its shore. However, that lake is teaching me a new lesson.


Life can achieve rich balances with many thriving beings.


Lake Erie was an extremely bountiful lake, flush with genetic diversity. A kaleidoscope of fish, bird, invertebrate, mammal and plant species called it home. The largest orchestra playing the most complicated symphony would be an apt comparison.


With that diversity, the lake could adapt to many things, whether natural or those driving my human activity. When conditions shifted, there were species who could multiply, fill in and take advantage.


There are community-builders and absorbers.


Some behaviors in the natural world allow for other organisms to coexist or to even benefit others. Healthy populations of algae and microorganisms feed baby fish, who grow up to be large fish that create waste to feed more plant species that support more microorganisms. Those large fish are also prey for birds and mammals- including us.
From https://minnesotawaters.org/westbattlelake/invasive-species/

Some behaviors, such as those demonstrated by zebra mussels, rock entire water systems and their inhabitants. Zebra mussels pelletize everything in the water they “swallow”, even if they don’t digest the material themselves. They also produce massive amounts of offspring that continue this cycle. Those offspring attach to any surface they can, cloaking all the hard surfaces found under the water’s surface in thick crusts of their shells. When introduced into Lake Erie, native populations were faced with massive changes to their food supplies and water chemistry. Some benefited, others faced extinction and the whole ecosystem became susceptible to new patterns of aquatic plant populations as the water clarity increased.



Our behaviors can be community-building or absorbing.


This is today’s lesson from Lake Erie to me. There are people today who act like zebra mussels. More troubling is the idea that most corporations act this way, as well. They boost of record profits and squirrel that money away in assets they control and enjoy. When overwhelming dominance is a top priority for either an individual or group, pain and suffering for many others will result.


I don’t look at species such as zebra mussels as “bad” and seeking a place is every living thing’s goal. All of us humans seek this goal. We all want a place in a community.


We humans also have 2 amazing skills: we can acknowledge the results of ours and others’ actions and we can amend those actions to achieve a balance. That sense of community can drive us to make decisions that build and not just absorb. We just need the resolve to do so.


To the teaching community, the holiday season is upon us! Dear Teachers, a year’s worth of beautiful nature images, supportive essays and space to record your own journey, makes a great gift for yourself or a teacher in your life!

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