The Balance of Nature: Ecology's Enduring Myth

The Balance of Nature: Ecology's Enduring Myth

The Balance of Nature: Ecology's Enduring Myth

The Balance of Nature: Ecology's Enduring Myth


The idea of a balance of nature has been a dominant part of Western philosophy since before Aristotle, and it persists in the public imagination and even among some ecologists today. In this lively and thought-provoking book, John Kricher demonstrates that nature in fact is not in balance, nor has it ever been at any stage in Earth's history. He explains how and why this notion of a natural world in balance has endured for so long, and he shows why, in these times of extraordinary human influence on the planet's ecosystems, it is critical that we accept and understand that evolution is a fact of life, and that ecology is far more dynamic than we ever imagined.

The Balance of Nature traces the fascinating history of the science of ecology and evolutionary biology, from the discipline's early innovators to the advent of Darwin and evolution, to the brilliant and inquisitive scientific minds of today. Blending insights and entertaining stories from his own remarkable life in science, Kricher reveals how evolution is a powerful engine that drives ecological change, how nature is constantly in flux and, in effect, quite naturally out of balance--and how notions to the contrary are misguided and ultimately hazardous to us all.

The Balance of Nature forcefully argues that an understanding of the dynamic nature of ecology and evolution is essential to formulating policies of environmental ethics to guide humanity toward a more responsible stewardship of our planet's ecosystems.


I often enjoy my lunch at a small café named Holly Berry's. It's one of those places where people quickly know your name, at least your first name, where congeniality and food are offered with equal gusto. I was talking to Jack, who most folks would describe as a cook until they taste his food, at which point he'd be better described as a chef. Jack asked me if I was writing a book while on sabbatical and I said that I was, one about the concept of the balance of nature. Jack allowed as to how he had not given a great deal of thought to the balance of nature but, in his line of work, he had thought often about the balance between soup and sandwich. Not just any soup goes well with just any sandwich. and opinions vary. Jack opined that the delicate balance between soup and sandwich is essentially judgmental. In the end it comes down to what tastes good to whoever is having the soup and sandwich. that day I had tomato basil soup and a grilled cheese with onions and tomato. Excellent balance.

The point here is that the concept of balance is, indeed, often in the eye of the beholder. That includes one of the most deep-seated assumptions about balance, that there is such a thing as the balance of nature. Such a realization is nontrivial.

This is a book about ecology but it is not the usual kind of book about ecology. There are several themes that run through the narrative. one is an account of what ecology is today and something of how it got to be that way. I describe how ecology has emerged . . .

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