COLUMN: My natural state: In awe, but clueless

Published: Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 06:03 PM.

“Dad, don’t you make a living teaching kids about things in the forest?”

This scenario could be, and is, any given weekend of my life. Yes, I am the director at the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center in Freeport . Yes, I am in the woods every day. Yes, I don’t know anything.

That’s not completely true. I have a reason for my lack of knowledge. It’s good. Hear me out.

Many, many years ago the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem covered our land in the Southeast United States . From Virginia all the way over to Texas , a unique mixture of sandhill, flatwoods and savannahs created a vast amount of biodiversity.  The longleaf pine ecosystem is almost non-existent today.  However, the effects and remnants of this great ecosystem have given us the basis for a multitude of plants.

This isn’t to say that the soil in the Southeast was, and is, consistently rich and healthy for growth. Studies have found that the vast biodiversity in the longleaf pine ecosystem actually comes from the lack of healthy soils. Add in the constant, sweeping, natural fires caused by lightning strikes, and you have the perfect recipe for large numbers of varying plant life. 

I won’t bore you with the particulars of how this works. The important thing to know is that plants in poor soils compete for sunlight. If a fire comes through an area every year or two, these plants all start over with their growth process. This eliminates the faster growing plants to dominate the sky for the sunlight.

If one or two species isn’t hogging all of the light, then many, many species can coexist together. Obviously there are other factors that can come into play, but you get the general idea.

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