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8 Examples of Functioning and Not-so-Functioning Ecosystem Processes

Savory Institute Online Courses

I got my first computer when I went to college at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 1999. It was a Gateway. It was enormous. My roommate, Liz, and I had our own desktop computers and they took up about one third of our tiny dorm room. How times have changed. The Savory Institute offers a complete course online, which is a standard form of learning today. It covers all the modules of Holistic Management. I am working my way through the courses (Spencer finished them first because they are part of the accreditation process) and enjoying every minute. I highly recommend them as a first step for anyone wanting to learn more or get involved in Holistic Management.

I am taking my time. There is no rush–how different than cramming in college! I spend one hour each morning (very early so I am not interrupted) working on the courses. It is a fantastic way to start the day. I’ve been involved in Holistic Management since 2004, when I was introduced to it by Rob Rutherford, one of my professors at Cal Poly. Every time I read the text book, or as I go through the courses, I pick up something new.

To enroll in the Savory Institute online courses, click on this link and save 10 percent.

As I finished the first course in Unit 2, Ecosystem Processes, I was asked to document evidence of effective and ineffective ecosystem processes: water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow and community dynamics. I never thought I’d publish a homework assignment online, especially as I think back to my first college assignments hammered out on that lumbering, trusty Gateway (do they make those anymore?).

What do you think? Is this how you would describe effective ecosystem processes? Let us know on our Facebook page!  As Allan Savory states in the online courses, each of the four ecosystem processes are really different  windows looking in on the one ecosystem that sustains us all.

Examples of Effective and Ineffective Ecosystem Processes

Water Cycle

ecosystem processes, holistic management, Springs Ranch

An example of an effective water cycle.

The photo above is of an effective water cycle. There is plenty of ground cover and multiple species of plants that are holding the snow on the ground. When it melts, instead of running off, it will sink slowly into the ground, where it belongs.

Ineffective water cycle, ecosystem processes, holistic management, Modoc County

An example of an ineffective water cycle.

The photo above is of an ineffective water cycle. The lack of plants in the soil allow the water to run off, which creates these small ditches in the mountains near our house. Instead of sinking into the ground, the water runs off quickly. It causes erosion as it flows, which further breaks the water cycle. To remedy this, a manager could create small silt breaks with plant material to slow the rapid flow of water off the mountains. We would also use animal impact to improve soil life, increase plant density and thus hold more water in the soil. This land is severely over rested.

Mineral Cycle

mineral cycle, Surprise Valley, California, holistic management, Jefferson Center

An example of an ineffective mineral cycle.

The photo above is of an ineffective mineral cycle. In this photo there are too many oxidizing bushes along with exposed bare soil. This is a sign of over resting and over grazing at the same time. The minerals are not cycling because the bare soil allows for them to run off and not be pulled into the soil. Also, the oxidizing plants need to be trampled so they are in contact with the soil surface and can cycle. In order to remedy this, we would increase animal impact by bunching cattle more and implement a grazing plan to allow for the recovery of the desired plant species.

mineral cycle, holistic management, Springs Ranch, Fort Bidwell, California

An example of an effective and improving mineral cycle.

The photo above is of an effective mineral cycle. In this photo we are using an attractant (hay) to impose animal impact and introduce ground cover on standing dead brush. If the brush stands and continues to oxidize, the minerals/nutrients are not cycling. By introducing hoof action and trampling, we are breaking down the plant material. When they come in contact with the soil surface, they are able to be pulled underground and cycle again. This is a work in progress, but the impact of this management decision has been positive and significant.

Community Dynamics

community dynamics, holistic management, Springs Ranch, garden

An example of ineffective, but mending community dynamics.

The photo above is of an ineffective community dynamics situation. The soil is compact as you can see on the left hand side of the photo.
Because it is compact and nutrients are not cycling (this could also be an example of an ineffective mineral cycle but I am choosing to focus on CD here), the plant roots are not able to penetrate this hard soil, they literally grow sideways when they hit this compaction layer. This was taken in our new garden plot. Because the plants cannot aerate the soil, there is a lack of life in the soil decreasing the community dynamics. To remedy this we are first covering the soil and we are planting tap rooted plants there like dikon radishes to break through that compaction layer.

Genesee Valley, California, Clover Creek, holistic management, community dynamics

An example of effective community dynamics.

The photo above is of healthy community dynamics. In this field (although not obvious in the photo) there are many fish in a nearby stream, otters feed on the fish, beavers build dams, there are snakes, dragonflies, mosquitos, many birds, cattle, grass species and several tree species such as pine, oak, willow and fruit trees. The spacing between trees allows for sun to reach the valley floor and support a healthy and diverse plant and soil population. In many places in this area of California, the pine trees have become a “monocrop” and crowd out many other species. Due to the focus on maintaining healthy grasslands, the pine trees are a benefit–providing shade and habitat instead of a hindrance to the rest of the community.

Energy Flow

 

 

Seacliffs, San Diego, holistic management, energy flow, ecosystem processes

An example of ineffective energy flow.

The photo above is of an ineffective energy flow. (Although it could also show a poor water cycle and mineral cycle). These bare, exposed soil surfaces near Sea Cliffs in San Diego do not support any life forms, even lichen or algae. Given their proximity to the ocean, it is relatively humid, but management and treatment from humans has left this completely barren. There are no plants to capture sunlight and convert it to plant matter which feeds all other life. In order to fix this, I would treat it like a mine reclamation project and would use animal impact and feeding techniques to introduce life to the soil. The first step in healing is to cover the bare soil.

energy flow, ecosystem processes, holistic management, Surprise Valley, California

An example of effective energy flow.

The photo above is of effective energy flow. The area in the photo is densely covered with plants of many types. They are collecting sunlight and converting it to food for large animals (the cattle).