Biodiversity and Permaculture (fwd)

Lawrence F. London, Jr. london at
Tue May 5 08:48:23 EDT 1998

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 4 May 1998 16:51:45 EDT
From: Elfpermacl <Elfpermacl at>
In a message dated 5/3/98 10:32:35 PM, you wrote:
Where would I go to get permaculture literature locally?
Thanks!  Any leads that you could provide would be helpful.
James Mumm>>

Hi James:
The answer to your question is more complex than simple affirmation.  Of
course nobody is againts biodiversity per se, though in some (non
permacultural) quarters it is views as less important than other factors, e.g.
money and other media of control

At issue is what you mean by biodiversity.  If you mean numerical diversity of
biotypes, permaculture is neutral except when the numbers are very low or very
high.  If you me functional diversity, that is to say the number of functional
(useful, productive, plug in your own buzz word) CONNECTIONS between
biological types and the non-biological and quasi-biological components of ab
ecosystem, permaculture seeks to maximize this always.  In other words, if
there are sixty ways in which a hummingbird functionally interacts with a
bottle brush vine, that is more biodiversity than 50 non-interacting or
competitive interacting species in the same locale.  Generally the humming
bird will not get everything it needs from the bottle brush, which also needs
services from other organisms than the humming bird.  However FUNCTIONAL
diversity is the number of TOTAL connections (functional interactions).  Note
that a functional interaction may be superficially negative, as in the effect
of a predator on a prey population, however co-evolved predator/prey
combinations tend to preserve stable, healthy populations of the species

The problem permaculture addresses is based on the virtually ubiquitous
species Homo sap, present in almost every ecosystem and felt in the others,
even when not materially present.  Permaculture strives to integrate Homo sap
with ambient ecosystems with as many functional connections as required for
sustainance of the sap, and probably a bit more to account for non-material
dimensions of the species (spirituality, aesthetics, need for social
interaction, peculiar dependence on economic transactions, luxuriating,
recreational proclivities, etc.)  This makes for happy campers among the
humans and a lot more life, including numerical AND functional diversity, in
general.  Add to that a strong interest in preserving indigenous ecological
patterns, though not slavishly.  (We may seek NOT to optimize the interactions
that allow mosquito species to prosper, for example, particularly vectors of
such diseases as malaria, typhoid, and enchephalitis, though these perform
balancing and culling functions similar to predator-prey relationships.  In
this regard, we tend to be slightly sentimental in favor of individual members
of our own species. To that extent, we are hostile to biodiversity.)  

Having noted that indiginous ecological patterns are favored in permaculture,
it is important to note that they are largely absent where people have been
mucking around for a while.  For example, in a permaculture teaching trip to
Catalonia, I noticed that there was no indiginous ecosystem.  All that
remained were pioneer species, particularly those involved with frequent fire
cycles.  The original humid conditions that presumably produced a temperate
rainforest had been eliminated by human activity.  It is particularly bad luck
that rainy winds come from the south to this North Temperate Zone region, so
that terraces built on the rainy sides of mountains to catch rain create high-
mass solar absorbers.  These have successfully for at least a thousand years
of known history have repelled rain clouds from the sea and dried the air
(decreased RH, more precisely.)  All rain forest species except the fire
pioneers have been extinguished beyond the collective memory of residents.  We
don't know what the hell belongs there.  So we have to make it up as we go,
perhaps finding species assemblies elsewhere that will work, more likely
creating them in an effort to tailor to the environment as it becomes when we
restore the humid rainforest.  (This is possible with a tiny fraction of the
region's available resoruces, but will not be done due to land tenure
patterns, the same problem that we encounter virtually everywhere.)  

If you care to refine your question a bit further, I'm sure we can find some
better answers among the permaculture experts who monitor this list.

For Mother Earth, Dan Hemenway, Yankee Permaculture Publications (since 1982),
Elfin Permaculture workshops, lectures, Permaculture Design Courses,
consulting and permaculture designs (since 1981), and annual correspondence
courses via email.  Copyright, 1998, Dan & Cynthia Hemenway, P.O. Box 52,
Sparr FL 32192 USA  Internships. YankeePerm at  

We don't have time to rush.

A list by topic of all Yankee Permaculture titles may be found at
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