Closing a trilogy on “the mysteries of nature,” German forester Wohlleben (The Inner Life of Animals, 2017) examines complex ecosystems and our interventions in them.
Early on in the book, the author, a lively and engaging writer, unfolds a pleasingly puzzling tale about how salmon help ensure the health of forests, and forests in turn the health of oceans: “The relationship between tress and fish shows just how complicated ecosystems can be….Fish and rivers, it turns out, play an important role in nutrient redistribution.” Teasing out the hows and whys drives Wohlleben’s narrative, which touches on matters as various as the role of fire in managing the growth and health of forests and the critical importance of maintaining apex predators in ecosystems that, without them, eventually become something other than what they evolved to be: Kill off wolves and roe deer populations increase in the forests of Germany, which then, browsed and gnawed, sprout grasses where mosses and ferns used to be, changing the composition of the forest and inviting the likes of bark beetles, which in turn “open the door for creatures that make their living off dead wood.” Beetles, fire, mudslides: All speak to how human tinkering can have unintended consequences in a vast array of landscapes. So, too, can saving just a single species—reintroducing the wolf, say, in those altered forests among deer that don’t know how to run from the predator, making those forests “a pantry stuffed full of tasty treats.” So what’s to be done? Writes Wohlleben, in a provocative and slightly contrarian closing, “we don’t even need to do anything. Just the opposite, in fact. We need to leave things alone—on as large a scale as possible.”
Fruitful reading for students of the environment and of environmental literature, of which this is a fine specimen indeed.