Monday, August 11, 2008

The Cascade Effect: more accurate than the domino theory

There was a time when the term "domino effect" was used to describe everything from conservation issues to world domination. When talking about adverse effects on the ecology, scientists today prefer the term "cascade effect" as it more accurately reflects what is happening. Rather than one change affecting something else which affects something else, and so on (like dominoes), the cascade effect reflects how one change affects several others, which affects several more, broadening its overall impact over an entire eco-system.

The once precipitous decline of timberwolves in the U.S. and Canada is a typical example. Heavily hunted because of concerns over cattle losses, the decline in the wolf population caused an increase in the deer population which, in turn, encroached on the cattlemen's grazing land. But also, there was an explosion in the rodent population (also part of the wolves' diet) which impacted insect populations and birds (through loss of bird eggs and chicks) and so on and on . . .

Mankind has a tendency to look for simple cause and effects and simple solutions. Nature is much more complex than that and so we must be constantly aware of the wide-ranging impact of our actions.

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