When designing sustainable and environmentally friendly food production systems, we often try to mimic the most successful natural ecosystems that surround us in nature.
The design of “Food Forest” is a representative example. It involves creating functioning food production systems that mimic natural forests and forest ecosystems. One of the interesting things to think about in food forest design is how ecosystem succession can be accelerated to meet goals in a more timely manner.
What is ecosystem succession?
Ecosystem succession refers to the process by which ecosystems evolve over time. Ecosystems typically go through a series of predictable stages as they change and evolve.
For example, consider the evolution of natural forests. Annual wind-dispersed herbaceous plants are usually the first to arrive from bare soil. These pioneers colonize sites and have adaptations that allow them to survive and improve conditions for herbaceous plant communities to evolve.
After establishing an ecological community of grasses, broadleaf trees, and legumes, the soil is modified to the extent that it can begin to support shrub species. A new, more protected microclimate emerges and small pioneer tree species can begin to grow. Pioneer trees thicken and shape the environment. Young forest ecosystems begin to emerge. And the soil changes to support the growth of more diverse woody species.
As the young forest grows, the pioneer trees gradually become less competitive, shaded, and replaced by other trees, usually longer-lived species. Once these trees have grown to maturity and have a greater degree of canopy cover with hierarchical undergrowth, the climax stage of the forest can be reached. and woodlands continue to change and evolve over time.
Of course, this is a simplification of the process, but it gives a broader idea of how such ecosystems evolve. By watching this, we can learn a lot about these changes and use them to our advantage to speed up natural processes and reach mature tree-based ecosystems sooner.
Why accelerate ecosystem succession?
The process of ecosystem succession that leads us to the climactic forest usually takes 50 to 150 years. However, with the right approach, the process can be accelerated, creating an ecologically functional climax forest in about 10 years. Accelerating inheritance can help repair, restore, and “rewild” within a timescale that allows these strategies to be used to address many local and global problems.
By speeding up this natural process, food production systems that work with nature instead of fighting it, increasing biodiversity, resilience and yields more quickly to achieve food security at multiple scales. can also be developed.
How to do it in food forest design
Natural primary and secondary forests are complex, multi-layered systems that often take years to evolve. But if you mimic such a system to create a food forest, you don’t have to wait for the natural inheritance process.
Instead, you can shorten the process by carefully designing layers of vegetation and planting them at the same time. You can plant trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, etc. suitable for a particular location to speed up the system’s progress toward the climax forest stage.
Through our practice, we can ensure complex and resilient ecological functioning in a much shorter timeframe.
- Use what is already growing on your site, be mindful of what works to fill your particular ecological niche, and chop or drop existing vegetation rather than removing soil from your site. , mulching and nourishing the soil.
- It introduces hardy, resilient pioneer plants that are well-suited to specific situations, relying on species that can grow well and easily in specific environments to improve conditions for many other species to grow.
- Amend the soil by cutting, mulching, etc., as well as carefully selected pioneer plants to add organic matter to the soil. This speeds up processes that occur naturally when, for example, deciduous plants shed their leaves to return the nutrients they contain to their systems.
- Manage water wisely and introduce earthwork and other features to improve site growing conditions and help establish more biodiverse ecosystems more quickly.
- We substitute plants to fill specific ecological niches and carefully select plants to yield and meet our own needs while mimicking the local natural forest ecosystem as closely as possible. .
- Finally, to promote healthy soils, healthy plant communities, and beneficial changes that accelerate us toward our goals, we need to involve wildlife ecosystem engineers (e.g., beavers) and system Careful rotation of livestock through farms could also be considered.
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