Interfering with Nature

On its back with its feet in the air, a wood louse was stranded in the middle of my patio. Defenceless and in the open, its future looked bleak.

Gallantly, I came to the rescue. I turned it over. But, more than that, I moved it to a less exposed part of the garden where I had some rotting wood – an environment which I thought would be much more to its liking.

But did I act too hastily? Did I do the right thing?

Certainly, there are no issues with the saving of a life. I was giving it a second chance. But, moving the wood louse to a different part of the garden…. Was that such a wise move?

I will have disturbed the delicate balance of nature. In the insect world, this seemingly innocuous action may amount to a tsunami of drama and change.

First of all, and most immediately, the wood louse may have young offspring that it is raising. To move it from its territory means that it will no longer be able to feed and nurture those offspring so they will die. My saving of a single life will have led to the killing of many.

Secondly, although I am not entirely sure about wood lice, most animals are territorial. So, to move an animal out of its territory creates a space for other animals to compete for. The territorial balance will be disturbed. I may have instigated an outbreak of wood lice wars on my patio.

For the conveyed wood louse, it is now without a territory – effectively in a foreign land – so it will have to compete in order to gain one. It will be like starting out in life again.

Even more significantly, my actions may have a determining influence on the wood lice population as a whole. I may have moved the wood louse into a wholly new environment, an environment inhabited by a slightly different strain of wood louse.

If my wood louse establishes itself and successfully reproduces, then its variant genes will enter the local wood louse population. Suddenly, like throwing a grenade into a crowded room, I have introduced new genes into that localised environment’s evolutionary mix.

Admittedly, my wood louse has not moved far, but it may be far enough to impact the evolutionary course, and if I had moved it further – to the local park for instance – then the affect might be even greater.

Who knows what affect my wood louse will go on to have!

Inadvertently, have I perhaps done what settlers did to Australia in the eighteenth century when they took rabbits to the new continent? The rabbits were initially caged and used for food but were later released to be used for recreational hunting. There are now approaching 200 million of them in the wild. They have become a pest, destroying crops and being responsible for the decline and extinction of many native plants and animals.

There are countless other examples where invasive species have wiped out an existing population: grey squirrels, Japanese knotweed, Asian hornets, American mink…..

Most of the time, these invasive misdemeanours stem from our human actions; from our ignorance and innocence. Too often, we act without thinking it through. Humanity – the bull in the china shop.

Similarly, my wood louse’s rehoming was not well thought out. Good intentions but I can’t say I gave too much thought to the wider ecological consequences.

Of course, there is a more positive viewpoint I could take. My actions, rather than being seen as negative and interfering, could be considered as more positive and facilitative. By moving my garden wood louse I am giving nature the chance to be genetically creative. There’s the possibility of new, different genes that can be galvanised towards species improvement. It’s an opportunity for nature to progress.

Either way, whether I have been a force for good or ill, there is potentially no limit to the impact I may have had. If my wood louse brings some new genetic qualities to the wood lice of the rotting wood then they will acquire an evolutionary advantage and other species will suffer in the short term. Those other species will have to adapt to the newly adapted wood louse. There will be a ripple effect, and, like a butterfly flapping its wings on the other side of the world, my wood louse changes the course of evolutionary destiny.

Nature – so intricate, so fragile, so vulnerable – an interwoven network of activity that rests on a delicate balance but which can so easily be disturbed when something new and varied is thrown into the mix.

But please, do not be so quick to judge. There should be no blame, accusations or criticisms. As mitigation I offer the fact that my – as will your – daily consumptions, activities and life choices will be far more impacting on nature. In the wider scheme of things, my moving of a wood louse really doesn’t amount to very much.

Even so, my actions have been interfering. I have acted as a mini-God with the power of life and death and the ability to shape the world of nature.

Perhaps I should be rather more wary and considerate of such actions in the future. Perhaps I should have just left the wood louse to its fate. Perhaps I should just let nature take its course.

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