I’m fascinated by creatures that create new ways of life for others. Ecologists talk about ‘keystone species,’ ones which support entire ecosystems, like the central stone in a renaissance archway. Pull it away, and the whole arch falls. But I like to go beyond the edge-of-your-seat ‘Jenga’ approach, and think about ‘ecosystem engineers’: category-busters that create new opportunities for everyone. The beaver is one of those. Beavers build lodges (domed shelters made of woven branches and grass, plastered together like adobe) and they also build log dams to raise the water level around the lodge, hiding the entries to their home safely underwater. When beavers are around, a wetland is nine times more likely to have pooling water, and in times of drought, these waterways have 60% more water in them. Where there are beavers, there is a greater abundance and diversity of songbirds, frogs, salamanders, dragonflies, and fish. Put simply, beavers make ponds, and ponds support life. There are other ecosystem engineers out there; fig trees, coral reefs, elephants, and fungus, for example. In each of these species, a radical innovation brought them success and changed the world forever, not just for themselves, but for everyone else as well. People do it too. But are we creating more life with our innovation? More opportunities? More value? Read today’s entry of The Biomimicry Manual, and find out!
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