Mariton: Gnats, Cars and Jets

September 30, 2016

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

Gnats are bad again this fall. I spend enough time outdoors to have gotten used to them.  If they are just swarming in front of my face I almost do not notice them anymore.  I don’t get bit very often, but when I do it is always when both hands are busy and I can’t swat at the culprit.  When the gnats are bad someone always asks “What are they good for?”  I totally understand the frustration.  Gnats make being outdoors less fun.  Before I go into my “biodiversity spiel” I’ll point out that black flies, gnats and their like feed millions of birds in the northern reaches of Earth where these birds go to raise another generation.  The insects are also important food sources for birds as they migrate back to their wintering grounds (whether it is in our back yard or the southern tip of South America).

So here is my “biodiversity spiel” (which I took from a video put out by the PA Wild Resource Conservation Fund).  Pop the hood of your car.  I’ll point to things on your engine.  If you can’t tell me what they do, I’ll remove it from the engine.  (What are gnats, posion ivy, or stick seed good for?)  At some point I am going to remove something that is vital to your car’s operation.  Just because we don’t know what something does for the system doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.

Here is another one. Imagine you are sitting on a jet ready to take off and fly over an ocean.  As you look out your window, you see a mechanic removing a rivet from the wing.  You call over the flight attendant and they respond that you shouldn’t worry.  They fly all the time with a few missing rivets in the wing.  The person continues removing rivets randomly.  At what point do you ask to get off the jet?

Our Earth is that jet, and each rivet is a species (plant, insect, mammal, bird, amphibian, etc.). Can we continue on with a few species missing?  Maybe.  Which rivet is the one that causes everything to fail?  We just don’t know, but still the human species continues to make trivial and frivolous justifications for removing another rivet from the jet.  Except we can’t get off when the system fails catastrophically.