Stop E

Sustainability, Resilience, and Reflection

January 10, 2022

The muck farm largely closed due to increasing heavy rainfall and soil subsidence we discussed earlier. This combination meant the area could no longer be farmed reliably because water often made its way back into the plots, flooding and damaging the crops. This made the process of farming here unsustainable.

When we talk about sustainability, we are referring to whether and how an ecosystem can continue to support certain processes or practices over time. In this case, the practice was pumping the water out of the marsh to farm the muck, which was no longer working – making it unsustainable to continue doing so.

Another concept related to the sustainability of a landscape has to do with how fast an ecosystem can recover or rebound from a shock, or a significant event. In CMERC, the primary shock was flooding events. But other events can also be shocks, like a fire, heavy grazing by animals, drought, or even a dramatic policy shift. The ability of the landscape to cope with and adapt to the changes caused by events like these – also called disturbances– is known as resilience.

By actively removing the water, plants, and animals that normally lived in the marsh so that it could be farmed, we unknowingly made the ecosystem less resilient or capable of responding to and recovering from natural disturbances.

Research at places like CMERC is showing us that biodiversity– a broad variety of plants and animals living together– is an important part of resilient landscapes and contributes to a place’s ability to adapt to disturbances and sustain life (including us) over time. The return of native plants and animals that are already adapted to this type of landscape will hopefully support the resilience of the CMERC site into the future.

Can you think of other examples of landscape disturbances that change a place’s identity or function?

Consider hurricanes, tsunamis, even algal blooms in the Great Lakes. Can you think of any others? 

Humans experience disturbances – and resilience – too. Think about a time that you experienced an event that had a big impact on you, and consider the ways you coped, adapted, and responded. Did the event make you stronger or better prepared for similar events in the future?

The Muck farm here is an example of how altering our ecosystems for human use can have unintended consequences. Let’s move along to the next stop and talk a little bit more about this idea.