Trophic Cascades with the Teachable Spirit

» Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 in teachable spirit | 0 comments

Trophic Cascades with the Teachable Spirit

What is a trophic cascade? What happens when wolves are reintroduced into an ecosystem? What can the teachable spirit learn from wolves changing rivers?

Recently, the teachable spirit stumbled on this beautiful metaphor about how wolves change rivers. Essentially, the idea is that the absence of wolves causes the environment to disintegrate. The entire ecosystem is shored up with the reintroduction of wolves. I love this example of how the presence of one creature completely changes the landscape and outcome for all concerned.

Sandy Taylor spoon feeding water to a small child, Kimana, Kenya, December 2013. Photo by Beret Meyers Photography.

Sandy Taylor spoon feeding water to a small child, Kimana, Kenya, December 2013. Photo by Beret Meyers Photography.

Personally, I have experienced the effect of a trophic cascade in my own life, where one individual has changed the entire landscape. I also see it in other circumstances around the world; for example, Dr. Jeff Kahrs stabilizing the environment of Simmons Chiropractic Clinic where he works, Sandy Taylor establishing the Kimana School of Leadership and Professional Studies (KSLPS) for the Maasai in the Kimana Rift Valley of Kenya, or Douglas Monene creating a safe environment for the children of Ingrid Education Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.

Dr. Jeff Kahrs in Kenya ministering to the Maasai with healing hands, December 2013.

Dr. Jeff Kahrs in Kenya providing chiropractic care to the Maasai in the Kimana Rift Valley, December 2013. Photo by Beret Meyers Photography.

Working as wolves in their environment, they have created a trophic cascade that influenced the ecosystem to such an extent, the rivers changed their course, altering the physical geography of the land.

Here is the story followed by the video:

A trophic cascade is an ecological process, which starts at the top of the food chain and tumbles all the way down to the bottom. The classic example is what happened in the Yellowstone National Park in the United States when wolves were reintroduced in 1995 after being absent for 70 years. Before the wolves turned up the greatly increased deer population had reduced the vegetation to almost nothing due to extensive grazing.

Douglas Monene, Founder of Ingrid Education Centre, holding one of the graduates in Nairobi, Kenya, November, 2013.

Douglas Monene, Founder of Ingrid Education Centre, holding one of the graduates in Nairobi, Kenya, November, 2013.

The arrival of the wolves, although few in number, had remarkable effects, namely:

  • they wolves killed some of the deer
  • they radically changed the behavior of the deer
  • the deer avoided vulnerable places
  • the valleys and gorges started to regenerate
  • the heights of the trees quintupled in six years
  • aspen, willow, and cottonwood increased
  • songbirds and migratory birds increased greatly
  • beavers began to build dams
  • dams created habitats for otters, muskrats, ducks, fish, reptiles, and amphibians
  • the wolves killed coyotes
  • so rabbits and mice increased
  • hawks, weasels, foxes, and badgers increased
  • carrion attracted ravens and bald eagles
  • bears increased because of the carrion and regenerated supply of berries
  • bears reinforced the impact of the wolves by killing some of the calves of the deer.
Dr. Warren Bruhl, teaching the basics of baseball to children in Kenya, November, 2012.

Dr. Warren Bruhl, teaching the basics of baseball to children in Kenya, November, 2012.

Here’s where it gets really interesting. The wolves changed the behavior of the rivers.

  • They began to meander less.
  • There was less erosion.
  • The channels narrowed.
  • More pools formed.
  • All of which were great for wildlife habitats.
  • The rivers changed in response to the wolves.
Dr. Scott Smith adjusting a splint he created for Caldula, an 85 year old woman in the Kimana Rift Valley of Kenya, December 2013. Photo courtesy of Beret Meyers Photography.

Dr. Scott Smith adjusting a splint he created for Caldula, an 85 year old woman in the Kimana Rift Valley of Kenya, December 2013. Photo courtesy of Beret Meyers Photography.

The reason was that the regenerating forests stabilized the banks, so that they collapsed less often, so that the rivers became more fixed in their course. Similarly, by driving the deer out of some places, and the vegetation recovering on the valley sides, there was less soil erosion because the vegetation stabilized that as well.

So, the wolves, small in number, transformed not just the ecosystem of the Yellowstone National Park, this huge area of land, but also, its physical geography.

–Narrated by George Monbiot

Ingrid Education Centre's first 8th grade class posing with their parents, guardians, and teachers, March 2014.

Ingrid Education Centre‘s first 8th grade class posing with their parents, guardians, and teachers, March 2014.

Support those in Kenya who are changing the geography of the land by their presence and energy in creating opportunities for the under resourced of the world.  

Contact Dr. Warren Bruhl via email: dr.bruhl@dreamweaver911.org or other members of  the Board through Dreamweaver International to support Kimana School or Leadership and Professional StudiesKilimanjaro Mission Hospital, or Gear for GoalsContact Douglas Monene, founder of Ingrid Education Centre via email: douglasmonene@gmail.com to learn how to sponsor one of the children who attend Ingrid

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