“The black prairie was built by the prairie plants, a hundred distinctive species of grasses, herbs, and shrubs, by the prairie fungi, insects, and bacteria; by the prairie mammals and birds, all interlocked in one humming community of co-operations and competitions, one biota. This biota through ten thousand years of living and dying, burning and growing, preying and fleeing, freezing and thawing, built that dark and bloody ground we call prairie.”
Aldo Leopold , A Sand County Almanac
Yes, Leopold got it right. There is only one biota. He coined this phrase in reference to the formation of what we call prairie. But I think we can extrapolate the phrase to global significance. Think about it. All life is connected. All life is dependent on things like carbon, water, sunlight, nutrients, rocks, soil, temperature, oxygen , etc. One life form performs functions in the ecosystem needed by other living organisms in the system. Consider the simple connections like plants capturing the energy of sunlight in photosynthesis and then making that energy available to animals and humans for life support, while at the same time these same plants are releasing the oxygen needed by these same animals and humans. And the animals in turn release the carbon dioxide needed by the plants. That is a very intimate life connection – so do you see what I mean when I say there is only one biota? What about the bacteria and fungi in the soil that decompose complicated molecular compounds and release nutrients to plants for life support or those very important bacteria that cooperate with leguminous plant roots to take the nutrient we call nitrogen right out of the air we all breathe? Very few organisms on earth could survive very long at all if the sun did not appear each day to supply the energy we all need – all of us, one biota, depend on the sun- except for some microbes that can metabolize certain molecular compounds and do not need the sun, but they still need the air and the elements released into that air by plants and animals and yes, rocks. They need the elements in the rocks, as we all do, to sustain life. Yes, rocks are needed to sustain life as we know it. Again, it is all one biota.
So I beg you please leave the box you live in and get outside onto a prairie or into a woodland or into a mountain meadow or a wetland or onto the ocean and look around and feel the life there – observe the plants, see the insects and birds, imagine the bacteria and fungi, look for signs of animals, breathe in deeply the air, absorb the warmth of the sun on your skin – melt a little inside your heart – and then listen, be very, very quiet, stop thinking, set aside any thoughts about decisions needing to be made or work needing to get done, and listen, listen, listen. As you listen continue to observe all the detail around you, see the life, feel the life pulsing in the organisms around you. Do not be afraid to touch it, even lay down in it and talk to it.
And then you will begin to experience the meaning of Leopold’s phrase…” one biota”.
And then hopefully you will more likely concern yourself with the practices of conservation and preservation. Do this not only to protect the natural beauty of the life around you, but to be a person of ultimate integrity, a person who values the preservation of your fellow beings in this thing I refer to as one biota over economic gain or personal ego. So often humans have been driven by these latter two selfish motivations and such pursuits have led not only to environmental degradations of unimaginable proportions, such as the extinction of not only species, but entire ecosystems. It has also led to destructive wars and genocides around the planet, and of course extreme poverty and its associated diseases and hunger.
And then too, maybe all people of all races and cultures can begin to see that even among humans there is only one biota. We all on this planet are all engaged in this thing called life as one biota, we are all connected, our commonalities are by far stronger than our differences… and if we truly desire to be humans of dignity and integrity we will join with people of all the world to build lives of value and worth, freedom, quality, peace and joy.
I hope it will be helpful to this process to remind ourselves constantly that on this planet there is only ONE BIOTA.
In this context, it becomes painfully clear why we cannot simply let what happened to a people who called themselves the Kansa be forgotten. They were, people, part of the one biota, living on the majestic tallgrass prairie of a land now named for them… Kansas.
In a short time, from 1825 to 1873 they were almost completely wiped off the planet by the pursuit of other people for land and economic gain. And with them went many of the animals and the plants of an ecosystem thousands of years in the making. The prairie flora and fauna mostly disappeared, only to be found in remnants. The Kansa ended up living in a land that came to be called Oklahoma. As members of the one biota let us live in a way such biotic catastrophes never happen again.
Thoughts of Glennn Thomas Fell, Emporia, Kansas.