Friday, December 9, 2011

Don Quixote - Patron Saint of The Ecologically Naïve

In an especially marvelous episode in Don Quixote, the mad knight errant attacks Master Peter’s puppet show. He takes his sword to the puppets and the fittings and destroys the show. Confronted with the extent of the damage Don Quixote is unmoved, claiming that an enchanter had transformed the scene he had witnessed – in which Sir Gaiferos frees his wife Melisendra from the Moors – into the puppet show which he was then, naturally, compelled to reduce to wooden carnage. Don Quixote, the Knight of the Sad Countenance, might be a fitting patron of the ecologically naïve, failing as he does to perceive the realities of important connections, confusing what he sees with what fits the vision of his madness. The explicit role of ecology is to excavate these connections and to make transparent realities that might otherwise, to our cost, elude us.

In recent years ecological exploration has attended to the role of soil organisms and to the ecosystem processes occurring primarily belowground. This skein of research has resulted in a mild revolution (ecological revolutions tend to be bloodless and polite, but revolutions none the less) in our thinking. This reorientation in thinking is referred to as plant-soil feedback theory, the central claims of which are that the structure and functioning of ecosystems cannot be fully understood without appreciating the influence of the aboveground component of ecosystems on the soil and reciprocally of the influence of the soil on the communities above the soil surface. In effect the strings that run the Master Peter's ecological puppet show run not only from above, but emerge from the opaque but teeming world of the soil.

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