I was currently exploring a new train of thoughts, slightly different from my usual subject: novel ecosystems.
What is a novel ecosystem, you might ask? Well, it is an ecosystem that is disturbed (by humans) and where new species – or a previously unseen combination of species – start to grow.
Many pieces of semi-nature we have in our disturbed Belgian landscape fit within this definition: they don’t have a natural equivalent and only exists because of human presence. They host a set of species that is adapted to this (often reoccurring) disturbance, whatever it is (road creation, pollution, acid rain, agricultural practices) and that are not likely to be found together in a natural ecosystem.
I said it was a new train of thought, but that is not entirely true. I have been playing with this idea for a while now, as these novel ecosystems have fascinated me for as long as I have been in science. It is exciting to see which species manage to thrive there, and that it is often species that come from the furthest that like it there the most.
There is a large variety in these novel ecosystems, though. I showed pictures in this post of one that has a very low diversity of plant species, but many others can be found to be highly diverse. We would love to find out the reasons behind these differences, and to predict which species will be able to grow where.
It is not a new concept, and it might be just a different way of looking at things we already know, but it is a concept that allows us to measure how big the human impact actually is, and in that it is very helpful.