Are exotic aliens species less important than “natives or indigenous” species?

A view  that engenders heated debate and angry responses from ecologists and conservationists is questioned by Yolanda van Heezik,  in an essay on the Nature of CIties. Although this essay adreeeses the topic of exotic versus local fauna, it is equally valid when considering vegetation.

“This emphasis on killing introduced species to protect native ones makes me wonder how much people involved in these activities think about why they are willing to kill some to protect others. Why do they value native species above others?”

banner-3-859x560

From the Department of Conservation’s blog which provides step-by-step instructions on how to trap in your backyard: https://blog.doc.govt.nz/2017/10/15/how-to-trap-in-your-backyard/

Endemic faunas and floras make a country unique, and it is that uniqueness that engenders among its human inhabitants a sense of place or identity. Those species with populations that respond best to predator control are the most deeply endemic ones; in New Zealand they are species that have evolved for millions of years in an environment with no mammalian predators. The only terrestrial mammalian species native to New Zealand are a couple of species of rather small, insectivorous bats. When urban residents band together to trap rats or possums, it is to protect these vulnerable, endemic, native species — they want to be able to share their living spaces with them and encounter them as part of their day-to-day lives, rather than having to travel to special predator-free areas such as offshore islands to see them. NZ’s Department of Conservation’s Threatened Species Ambassador, Nicola Toki, argues that native species and introduced predators in New Zealand cannot co-exist, and that it is the indigenous subset of our biodiversity that fundamentally defines us as a nation.

This emphasis on killing introduced species to protect native ones makes me wonder how much people involved in these activities actually think about why they are willing to kill some to protect others, i.e., why they value native species above others? There has been long-standing, ongoing debate in the scientific literature on how introduced species should be managed, with some scientists arguing that the paradigm of native/non-native is no longer relevant in highly modified environments, such as urban landscapes (Davis 2011). Instead, proponents of this school of thought assert that environmental management should involve acceptance of alien species and novel ecosystems. Conciliation ecology is thought by some to be the morally acceptable course of action (references in Russell & Blackburn 2017), but is soundly rejected by others.

While there is no doubt in New Zealand that the introduction of predatory mammals into a fauna that evolved without any mammalian predator has had a disastrous impact on many of NZ’s native species, not everyone in NZ agrees with Nicola Toki’s sentiments or the concept of valuing native species above others. For example, one opponent to the “predator-free” concept asserts that “we can’t keep erasing the fact that the species that we introduced, whether managed or not, are ‘ours’ too — even the ones we later decided were a mistake. They’re our responsibility as well. And a future where people learn to accept the presence of our introduced species is not so horrifying.”

This view is being echoed more frequently in the media; in a recent opinionpiece in The Press, columnist Joe Bennett writes:

“We like our birds here. They’re our signature fauna. No-one else has got them and we haven’t got much else. But among birds we practise apartheid. We distinguish between birds that are — and here’s an adjective that chinks like a gold coin — native, and those that are not. Native birds are first-class citizens who can do no wrong. The rest are the rest and the magpie is among them. It’s an Australian import, loud, boorish, a bird to deride.”

At a more general level, in other countries, criticism has been leveled by social scientists at those advocating for native species, labelling it as a form of anti-immigrant nativism. They claim that the removal of non-natives reflects an anti-immigrant, racist, political discourse (Mastnak et al. 2014). They draw our attention to the Nazi policy of removing non-native plants, and by doing so implicitly associate the protection of native species with Nazism. An alternative perspective is that many current ecological problems are a legacy of colonialism, a process of settlement of plants, animals and people that resulted in the uprooting of native plants and indigenous peoples (Mastnak et al. 2014). This was certainly the case in New Zealand, where we even had an “Acclimatization Society” whose role was to introduce many species from the UK, where most settlers originated from, and create landscapes populated by familiar species. After early waves of extinctions this process was thought to be a means of restoring biodiversity to a depleted environment. Advocating for native plantings then becomes a process of decolonisation, which is ethically appropriate.

Others advocate for the middle-ground; they both question the dichotomy between native and non-native, but at the same time acknowledge that low-impact, non-native species should be tolerated, and that control methods to remove alien pest species can also be contentious if they involve the use of toxins (Shackelford et al. 2011). Some critics have raised the issue of involving children in the process of systematically killing predators, but also the militaristic dimensions of the entire exercise, which uses terminology such as “war on predators”, or “under siege”, and what some consider to be xenophobic expressions (Schlaepfer et al. 2010 ). Simberloff (2003) discusses the claims and suggests that it is impossible to prove that aesthetic preferences for native species are infected by nativism or xenophobia. He points out that those who criticise efforts to control non-native pest species often ignore their ecological and economic impacts, which alone comprise a valid, ethical rationale for managing introduced species.

Read the full essay

Lets get Dirty

We are the microbial systems and live in a microbial world,  our survival as individuals, communities and as a species depend on it ! In the movie “War of The Worlds”, Steven Spielberg attributed the success of humans in surviving the aliens invasion, to our immune systems evolutionary adaptation  to withstand our microbial environment. Heres a look at how this could impact our design thinking from The Dirt

Designing Cities for Healthier Microbiomes

Artistic rendering of the human microbiome / The Why Files

Humans are essentially super-organisms or holobionts made up of both human cells and those of micro-organisms, such as viruses, bacteria, archea, protists, and fungi. Researchers now know the human body hosts a comprehensive ecosystem, largely established by age three, in which non-human cells vastly outnumber human cells. The latest study from the American Academy of Microbiology estimates each human ecosystem contains around 100 trillion cells of micro-organisms and just 37 trillion human cells.

But while rainforest or prairie ecosystems are now well-understood, the human ecosystem is less so. As researchers make new discoveries, there is a growing group of scientists who argue our microbiomes are deeply connected with our physical and mental health. The increased number of prebiotics and probiotics supplements on the shelf in drug stores and supermarkets, and availability of fresh pickles and kimchi in local farmers markets, are perhaps testaments to this increasingly-widespread belief.

The question at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference in Oklahoma City was: Can we design cities to better support our microbiomes and in turn our overall health?

Through urban farming and gardening — or just plain playing in the dirt — humans can also increase their exposure to healthy microbes found in soils. A group of scientists and advocates argue that greater exposure could help fight depression and anxiety and reduce rates of asthma and allergies in both kids and adults.

The incredible increase of allergies among Western populations may be caused by our “sterile, germ-free environments” that cause our immune systems to over-react to everything from nuts to mold and pollen. Dr. Brett Finlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta even wrote a book exploring this: Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Over-sanitized World.

Wener said we have created cities that reflect our fear of bacteria; instead we must create microbial-inclusive cities that improve our health. “Most microbes in our bodies have co-evolved with us. They are important to our vital functions. The future of urban planning and design should support healthy microbes.”

As part of this vision, landscape architects could design parks and plazas to be filled with accessible garden plots and soil-based play areas that let both adults and kids get dirty. We could design for holobionts instead of just people, boosting the health of the collective urban microbiome in the process.

Wener’s colleage at NYU — Elizabeth Henaff — is leading much of this research. Learn about her artful experiments. Read this article from Michael Pollan in The New York Times outlining the connections between our microbiome and health, and this Q&A from The Guardian.

Read the full article

THE SHAPE OF WATER

From Jason King’s Landscape+Urbanism site

 

sketch_2-e1528755612550-2000x974

“Rendering of Houston wetland channel showing ecological wetland, conservation areas, and recreation trails” p. 90-91

An amazing resource posted on ASLA’s The Dirt (here) focuses on Design Guidelines for Urban Wetlands, specifically what shapes are optimal for performance. Using simulations and physical testing to investigate hydraulic performance the team from the Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism (LCAU) at MIT. Led by Heidi Nepf, Alan Berger and Celina Balderas Guzman along with a team including Tyler Swingle, Waishan Qiu, Manoel Xavier, Samantha Cohen, and Jonah Susskind, the project aims to have a practice application in design guidance informed by research. From their site:js_plan_typical-01

“Although constructed wetlands and detention basins have been built for stormwater management for a long time, their design has been largely driven by hydrologic performance. Bringing together fluid dynamics, landscape architecture, and urban planning, this research project explored how these natural treatment systems can be designed as multi-functional urban infrastructure to manage flooding, improve water quality, enhance biodiversity, and create amenities in cities.”
Starting in the beginning by outlining ‘The Stormwater Imperative’, the above goal is explained in more depth, and issues with how we’ve tackled these problems are also discussed, such as civil-focused problem solving or lack of scalability, but also explore the potential for how, through intentional design, these systems “can create novel urban ecosystems that offer recreation, aesthetic, and ecological benefits.” (1)

single_island

The evolution that has resulted in destruction of wetlands through urbanization, coupled with deficient infrastructure leads to issues like flooding, water pollution due to the loss of the natural holding and filtering capacity of these systems and the increased flows. However, as pointed out by the authors, this can be an opportunity, as constructed wetlands “can partially restore some lost ecosystem services, especially in locations where wetlands do not currently exist.” (5)

The modeled flow patterns are also interesting, showing the differentiation from fast, regular, slow flows, along with any Eddy’s that were shown in dye testing using the flumes.

Read More

Check it out and see what you think.  The report is available as a online version via ISSUU or via PDF download from the LCAU site, where there are also some additional resources.  All images in this post are from these reports and should be credited to the LCAU team.

sketch_1

Landscaping in post Day Zero Cape Town

BY  Kay Montgomery From SALI  South African Landscapers Institute

Planting with species that thrive on less than 500mm of winter rainfall a year is the new reality for landscaping in Cape Town.   

The politicians may have done away with the Day Zero concept, but the realities of the water situation in the Western Cape remains dire.

Water restrictions and the price of potable water have encouraged a new landscaping reality. The foundation of this reality is based on landscaping with plants that thrive with less than 500mm of winter rainfall. And in our current era of climate change, coping with dramatically wet years – followed by dramatically dry years.

Highs and lows

With an average rainfall of 464mm per annum, South Africa remains a water scarce country. In years gone by, Cape Town’s average rainfall was 820mm per annum. In 2013 and 2014, Cape Town’s annual rainfall exceeded this average with two dramatically wet years.

The winds of change arrived in 2015.  Over the past three years, the rainfall received in Cape Town has swung way below the average:  549mm in 2015, 634mm in 2016 and 499mm in 2017 – the driest year since observations began in 1921.

Resilient landscaping

Against this backdrop, landscapers are practising the art of resilient landscaping. “We need green spaces in our cities”, says Norah de Wet, Chairperson of the South African Landscapers’ Institute (SALI). “Professional landscapers are at the forefront of securing the intrinsic value of properties across the Western Cape by refitting, rehabilitating, restoring and installing resilient landscapes”.

Planting for resilience

“Choosing plants that can thrive in a winter rainfall area with less that 500mm a year of rainfall is key to the concept of resilient landscaping in the Western Cape”, says Deon van Eeden from Vula Environmental Services.  “Only with a sound knowledge of fynbos flora, can one succeed in designing water wise, ecologically sound, resilient landscapes for the winter rainfall area”, he adds.

 

What is one thing every ecologist should know about urban ecology?

Introduction
An ecology for the Anthropocene

high-line-asqueue-792x560

The High Line in New York City. Photo: David Maddox

Urban ecology has expanded in the last couple decades as a major, global, interdisciplinary field that advances biodiversity, sustainability, and fundamental ecological research in the context of cities and urbanization. With all this accumulated learning, has urban ecology made its mark in the field of ecology more generally?
In some of the most important peer-reviewed ecology journals, and on social media, it seems even the most basic of urban ecology concepts have yet to be appreciated or incorporated in the broader ecology discipline. For example, it’s been 25 years since Humans as Components of Ecosystems was published, and yet many ecologists still don’t see humans as part of how we define and study nature—despite the fact that every ecosystem on earth is affected by, and has effects on, people.

The High Line in New York City. Photo: David Maddox
In November 2017, Nature Ecology and Evolution published a major review of the field of ecology, titled “100 articles every ecologist should read” (behind a paywall, unfortunately). It must be noted that the list was a product of a extensive survey of ecologists. Nevertheless, many ecologists around the world took exception to the lack of gender and racial diversity, and its general lack of inclusivity (see here, here, and here). Notably lacking from these academic discussions has been a recognition of core contributions from urban ecology to how we understand, manage, and plan ecosystems on our urban planet.

It begs the question: what would a reading list be for the discipline of ecology in the Anthropecene? But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

No one disputes that the 100 papers listed by Nature Ecology and Evolution are important in the history of ecology. Indeed, everyone should read these papers. But is this the right list of 100 papers to understand ecology today? There are other papers that should make a reading list for a complete understanding of modern ecology. An alternative version of a “key reading” prompt could be this: what are the 100 papers that every ecologist must read to understand ecology today, in the Anthropocene? Social ecology, biophilia, justice, poverty, gender, values, the Global South, design, climate change, policy; these are just some of the topics that are core material for understanding the broad science of ecology today, These topics are largely missing from the 100 papers list.

And also missing, of course, is urban ecology.

As it happens, urban ecology routinely includes the aforementioned list of additional topics: social ecology, biophilia, justice, policy, and so on. How does urban ecology advance the state of the art in ecology more generally? It advances our understanding of how our current world works, how it might work better, and it lays foundations to turn that learning towards pressing Anthropocene challenges, both urban and non-urban.

We asked a diverse group to help our non-urban ecological colleagues understand some of the most important contributions from urban ecology for advancing the field of ecology. We asked them this question: What is one thing every ecologist should know about urban ecology? (We asked them to suggest a reading also—a start on a reading list.)

Along the way, let’s expand the idea of “ecology”.

via What is one thing every ecologist should know about urban ecology? – The Nature of Cities

MEDIA RELEASE: GARDENS ARE IMPORTANT

via Contact – Cape Resilient Landscaping Forum

As the City of Cape Town has just implemented water rationing, this media release  informs why we need  need to maintain resilient urban landscapes and gardens.

MEDIA RELEASE BACKGROUND:

image005

Wild green belt / city parkland. (Marijke Honig)

The water crisis is a major cause for concern and poses a serious threat to some businesses and people’s livelihoods.

On the positive side it has raised public awareness about the value of water, and highlighted the bad practice of using potable water for irrigation.

A workshop was held in August called ‘Water restrictions as an agent of positive change: how to create a resilient green industry’, attended by landscape architects, contractors, growers, compost and irrigation suppliers, retailers and others. One of the issues identified was the urgent need to educate people about the importance of the urban ecosystem and clear up confusion about the use of borehole water. Here is a communication from the newly formed Cape Resilient Landscaping Forum:

MEDIA RELEASE, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – OCTOBER 2017

image006

Low maintenance road verge with no irrigation. (Marijke Honig)

GARDENS ARE IMPORTANT

ALL green areas – whether planted landscapes, wild areas, or a road verge with weeds – contribute to the urban ecosystem. They are vital to our well-being: green areas produce air for us to breathe, they filter pollution, absorb storm water and reduce flooding, purify water and maintain a pleasant temperature. Without sufficient planted areas and infiltration – due to the many tarred and paved areas, and reflective surfaces – the city heats up. This is known as the urban heat island effect: pollution levels rise and our quality of life decreases. On summer days, especially when there is no wind, the raised temperature is already evident in the City Bowl, which is a few degrees hotter than the suburbs.

Gardens form an important part of the urban ecosystem and are not a luxury: they are a necessity. Green areas provide habitat for wildlife and are good for our well-being. Please do not feel guilty about gardening! We encourage anyone with access to alternative water sources, such as borehole or grey water, to use it responsibly to help maintain the urban ecosystem. Furthermore help spread awareness of its value and the importance of permeable surfaces for infiltration of rain. This will make a positive difference

image004

Trees reduce air pollution in the urban environment, absorb CO2 and shade roads to decrease heat sink aspects. (Clare Burgess)

Some simple ways you can help preserve the urban ecosystem:

  1. Do not remove successful plants.Consider valuing plants for their resilience and ecological function, in addition to personal preference. A thriving common or weedy plant is better than nothing green at all!
  2. Mulch all planted areaswith a 5 to 10cm thick layer of mulch. This dramatically reduces water loss from the soil surface and keeps it cool. Organic mulches such as chipped wood and leaves are best, as they feed the soil and your plants.
  3. Keep areas planted, not paved. Consider how important it is for rainwater to infiltrate the soil: this is important for recharging groundwater (and good for trees) and keeps the ambient temperature down. Avoid hard surfaces where possible and usepermeable paving when a hard durable surface is required.
  4. If you do have a borehole, water deeply and infrequently. Mimic a good rainfall event of say 50mm and really saturate an area, with water penetrating at least 50-60cm into the soil. You may only need to do this every 3 to 4 weeks.

image007

Two local resilient plants species – Hermannia pinnata and Senecio crassulifolius. (Marijke Honig)

 

For more information on resilient landscaping and an educational quizz ‘How water-wise are you?’ please visit https://resilientlandscaping.wordpress.com/

Text by Marijke Honig

 

Practical vistas – John Thackera interview

John Thackara, a philosopher, writer and wide-ranging thinker, summarises the decisive contribution by design that gives practical form to a story, always in the service of the real needs of the people.

From Domus Interviews / Stefania Garassini

John Thackara at the Meet the Media Guru event in Milan

When you hear someone quote Marcel Proust – “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – there is a temptation to dismiss them as just another utopian, a dreamer who might have inspired ideas but cannot translate these into anything practical. Nothing could be further from the truth if the person in question is John Thackara, a philosopher, writer, event-organiser, thinker ranging across the boundaries between design and economics, and the author of numerous books – his most recent is How to Thrive in the Next Economy (Thames & Hudson).

Interviewed at the Triennale in Milan at the “Future Ways of Living” event (31 May), part of “Meet the Media Guru” platform, Thackara is one of those rare people who can open up huge intellectual vistas, but who can also give a very practical idea of the tools to use to realise them. To do that, he points to projects from around the world that interweave design, urban and rural planning, energy efficiency, and new ways of sharing resources, and in which communication technologies play a key role, but always in the service of the real needs of the people who live in a specific place with well-defined – and resolvable – problems. It is through these myriad small solutions, conceptualised and then put into practice, that the world will change. Thackara mentions here the theory of complexity: tiny changes can accumulate over time until one final alteration, apparently irrelevant in itself, provokes a radical transformation across the whole system.
Talking with this unique thinker – as we had the opportunity to do during his stay in Milan – means moving constantly from the plane of general ideas to that of small, practical, everyday things, where design, given a broader and in some ways innovative interpretation, can make a decisive contribution.

What is the contribution of design today?
It is the task of design to help us look at everything that surrounds us in a new way: to examine and evaluate the materials and structures – and, in general, everything that characterises a specific place. It is then up to the designer to find new, creative solutions to connect efficiently the people who live in the same area, but who have different expertise and interests. The third type of contribution, which is perhaps tied more closely to the traditional idea of design, is to give practical form to a story – the story of a place, for example. This should not remain a simple narrative, but can be translated into an object or practical service, one that can be shared, discussed and express a point of view.

Have there already been examples of services created in this way?
One very interesting example is the French site La Ruche qui dit oui, which started thanks to the contribution of a designer who is also a chef, Guilhem Chéron. In 2009 – using his experience with ethical purchasing groups – he came up with a new model for putting citizens in direct touch with farmers. The aim was to make the model more efficient and logical, offering consumers more choice and a wider network, with good prices and favourable conditions for the various actors in the game. Being a chef helped him make a very careful choice on the quality of the raw materials. Another example is a Maine farmers’ group, which has redesigned the way in which their products are distributed, and has also enhanced transport by boat as far as New York. These are projects that are sometimes very ambitious: they dare to imagine a world very different from the one that exists now.
What, in your view, are the changes needed most urgently today?
I often think of a simple question that can have far-reaching results if you ask it seriously and try to answer it: “Where did my meal come from?” Once we know the answer to that, the second question is: “How healthy is the place where it came from?” We should start afresh from the need to bring ourselves back into contact with the basic materials: food, air and water. This is the only way in which we can start to develop a different mindset and reach what I call “ecosystem thinking”. An interesting example is the West Country Rivers Trust, which is working to safeguard rivers in the southwest of England. A river is part of the heritage of an area, but they were polluted and no one seemed to be asking why. We started by showing very clearly, in visual terms, all the points at which a specific river is polluted by the behaviour of the people living or working on its banks. So we led people to wonder what they could do to remedy the problem. We designed a new form of association for environmental conservation based on the medieval “guild” model: someone cleans the river, someone else convinces the farmers not to pollute it with pesticides, and so on. We gave back to the people living in the region the ability to establish a form of contact with their rivers.

For several years, you have organised the Doors of Perception festival, which explores the cutting edge of technology, from the most innovative Internet developments to virtual reality – and doorsofperception.com is still the title of your blog, which provides extensive documentation of the projects and workshops that you have organised around the world. What, in your opinion, is the role of technology today in opening these “doors of perception”?

Web technologies are obviously fundamental for facilitating projects connecting people. It is very important that these involve encrypted, secure communications, so that you can share aspects of various projects that you do not want to make public, such as the assessments made by a community of each person’s work. I do not see a future for the dominant model today in the information technology industry, which is based on a hectic rush towards new products. I am no longer so interested in complex, costly technologies like virtual reality or robotic systems. I believe instead that we should recover a little of “hacker culture”, following the example of what is happening in countries like India, where the residents of whole city block make their living from repairing electronic objects with recycled materials, with the new deriving harmoniously from the old.

 

John Thackara certainly does not yearn nostalgically for a totally technology-free world. But after talking with him, it is clear that the last thing we need to see the world with new eyes is a virtual reality headset.

This is why the price of water needs to go up substantially

Sungula Nkabinde on Moneyweb Today :

 

“Proposed revisions to South Africa’s water pricing strategy are as broad as they are complex, but what is clear is that water will become significantly more expensive in the future.

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWAS) has gazetted a draft of the revised water pricing strategy, which outlines a theoretical framework that would engender a fully functioning water eco system. The 2013 document has led the discussion on how South Africa can reduce the financial burden on municipalities, which are required by law to provide water to those who cannot afford to pay for it, by transferring the full cost of delivering water services onto users. They will  incur a raft of charges that will see water pricing reflect the level of water scarcity in the country.

Domestic and commercial users will pay for charges related to planning, capital costs, operation and maintenance, depreciation, and future infrastructure build on government water schemes. A new polluter pays principle will also be imposed to ensure users discharging water containing waste into a water resource or onto land pay an additional amount.

According to the DWAS, South Africa ranks as one of the 30 driest countries in the world with an average rainfall of about 40% less than the annual world average rainfall.

Even though the implications could potentially be disastrous for an already struggling economy, the consequences of not the addressing the water security problem could be worse. The revised pricing strategy seeks to incentivise more efficient use of water, and ensure the much needed upgrade to the country’s water infrastructure is properly funded.

Municipalities struggling with poor billing systems, significant water leakage and high rates of non-revenue water (water provided for which no income is received) are a big part of the reason why there significant capital is required to resolve the water crisis in South Africa.

Sanlam economist Arthur Kamp says it’s not possible to give a definitive, or even a ball-park figure of how much the cost of water is going to increase by, saying price structures are going to be quite complicated because it is going to be a hybrid model. There will be a wide range of charges that will be determined on a national level, other times sectoral level.

Says Kamp: “What (the draft revised water pricing strategy) does is it gives one the flavour of what they’re trying to achieve. There is a lot of infrastructure coming and we can’t afford it so the user is going to pay. And I don’t think anybody is going to dispute that water is a scarce resource and that tariffs need to reflect that”.

Read More

Biomimicry Tools to Inspire Designers

While many are sceptical of the idea that we can use the complexity of natural systems to design man-made systems , here is evidence that the process can in fact provide valuable design inspirations and alternative strategies . From the Dirt by Jared Green

 

Rainforest epiphyte leaf formation / Reforestation.me

“Biomimicry is about learning from nature to inspire design solutions for human problems,” said Gretchen Hooker with the Biomimicry Institute at SXSW Eco in Austin, Texas. To enable the spread of these exciting solutions, Hooker, along with Cas Smith, Terrapin Bright Green, and Marjan Eggermont, Zygote Quarterly (ZQ), gave a tour of some of the best resources available for designers and engineers of all stripes:

AskNature.org

Hooker walked us through AskNature.org, a web site with thousands of biomimicry strategies, set up by the Biomimicry Institute. The site organizes biological information by function. “Everything nature does fits into a function. And these functions enable us to connect biology to design.”

AskNature first organizes strategies into broad functions and then zooms down into the specific. For example, a user could click on the broad function group, “Get / Store / Distribute Resources,” and then navigate to “Capture, Absorb, and Filter,” and then select “Liquids,” which has 52 strategies. One such strategy describes how the nasal surfaces of camels help these desert animals retain water. Another looks at how the horny devil, a desert lizard, uses its grooves to gather water from the atmosphere. There are just as many plant-derived strategies as there are animal ones. One such strategy looks at how the arrangement of epiphytes’ leavesaids in water collection (see image above).

All of these strategies are written in a non-technical way for a general audience. Hooker said they have selected the most “salient examples, backed with credible research citations.” Users can then go explore the citations and pull out excerpts.

Tapping into Nature

Terrapin Bright Green, a sustainable design consultancy, produced Tapping into Nature, a comprehensive online report covering the world of biomimetic design, which includes an amazing interactive graph. Cas Smith, a biological engineer, explained that the report and graph seek to “uncover the landscape of biomimetic innovation, with a roadmap that shows designs and their their stage of development: concept, prototype, development, or in the marketplace.”

“Biomimetic design is now found in almost all industries — power generation, electronics, buildings.” But to make things easier, Terrapin organizes the design strategies into the following sections: water, materials, energy conservation and storage, optics & photonics, thermal regulation, fluid dynamics, data & computing, and systems.

Using the graph, Smith picked out one story: the firm Blue Planet, which is mimicking the bio-mineralization processes of coral reefs, which pull carbon dioxide out of the water to create their unique structures, to create a new type of carbon-based building material. The firm is also creating pigments and powders. Another highlight: early exploration of termite humidity damping devices. Termites create massive mounds, mostly underground, which are equal in scale to a skyscraper for us. Within the mound, temperature and humidity levels are tightly controlled so they can grow the fungi they live on. In some of the mound’s subterranean rooms and chambers are bright yellow objects about the size of a fist. These structures are termite-created sponges that actually pull water from the air. Smith related to this to HVAC systems in human buildings, and how new systems could be created to remove humidity with giant sponges in a more energy efficient way.

Smith said the process of creating biomimetic innovations is similar to that of a typical innovation development process. “There’s just the added layer up front.” While there are risks in any process, biomimetic designs, he argued, will be the source of “breakthrough products for solving our problems.” If the designers and engineers creating these new products and processes follow nature, “they can embed sustainability throughout.”

Read More

Boston Living with Water

The proposal for structural new protection of Boston – by Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes prize winning entry in the city’s competition– against coastal flooding turns a safety precaution into an opportunity to create a multifaceted ecology feature

This article was originally published, feature-lenght, in the Green special report, Domus 994, September 2015

The focus of our competition entry “Total Resilient Approach” is based on the redesign of Morrissey Boulevard, a strategy that works on local and territorial levels.

Thetis SpA, Proap – João Nunes, Boston Living with Waters. Top: preliminary sketch showing waterways and the grid of the built environment. Above: site plan of the project area

Operating on different scales within a single ecological network, the protection plan can be implemented over time and is therefore adaptable to climate changes. The Boston Bay is destined to undergo rapid changes due to rising sea levels. The defence proposals afford an opportunity to speed up landscape transformations with a multidisciplinary approach. A long-term element of our project for the Bay is the rehabilitation of its ecosystems in order to protect the coastline by means of sea-grass meadows, oyster barriers and dunes, and improve biodiversity by enhancing self-adaptive systems such as salt marshes.

Continue reading