A tip of the hat
In milestones: after 13 months, the last shrimp “econaut” in the Sparks Research Group tabletop biospheres has passed on to that great biosphere in the sky. A simple mix of plants, microbes, and minerals, with the addition of energy in the form of light, kept this ecological explorer alive for more than a year in a sealed 2-quart jar.
It’s been so heartening to watch people doing this project, but Sparks’ was especially successful. 13 months is an amazing demonstration of the effectiveness of ecological cycling. Of course we experience ecological cycling every day, whenever we breathe or eat, but it’s so easy to forget that every breath and bite depend on forests, plants, insects, oceans… I hope this kind of demonstration shows how powerful and tenuous those cycles are. The cycles can and will go on, but whether they will serve to support our species (or another one, with strange new priorities) is another matter. :)
My tabletop biosphere on KQED
One little note: the video segment is very pretty and smooth, but might give the impression that making one of these systems is pretty much throwing some stuff in a jar. It’s not. Yes, the pond scum is important, but too much of it will be a very bad thing. So: read the full recipe at this link.
Tabletop biosphere project: free instructions and an update
Last year MAKE magazine published a tutorial I wrote about how to make a closed ecological system in a sealed bottle. It was a significant improvement on the earlier attempts I had made. My new system could reliably sustain Amano shrimp for 3 months or more, and snails indefinitely.
“The TSSM (Tabletop Shrimp Support Module) is a fun demonstration of the ecological cycles that keep us all alive, and an enticement to muse on everything from Godhood to space colonization,” I wrote in the teaser, and hey, I believe that more than ever now. Everybody should do this project.
Now MAKE’s a pricey mag — well worth it of course — but nonetheless it was nice to see the editors release my article to the public as a free PDF. In the months since the MAKE piece I’ve …more
Closed ecological systems: It’s tough being God
Yesterday morning I got up and muddled through the morning as usual: turned on the coffee maker, let out the dog, and tried to read the paper as the baby gleefully destroyed the living room. I was grateful when he finally went down for his nap about 11:00 AM. That’s when it dawned on me that I had missed something — I had forgotten to turn on the sun. See, I’ve recently become God!
Or a god of a sort. I’ve created some “closed ecological systems” — ecosystems sealed in bottles — just to see if I could keep a little world “in balance.” Here’s the recipe… …more
My own Biosphere, minus the jumpsuits
I was trained as a biologist, and for some years worked in ecological research. I’ve authored papers in highfalutin journals like the Journal of Ecology and the American Naturalist. But I’ve learned more about ecology from gardening.
I never understood the depths of cooperation between plants and animals until I had spent half a year of mornings, sitting outside half-awake with my coffee, watching a lupin going through its cycles. The same damn bumblebee (it seemed) was there at the lupin every single day, tireless and systematic in its quest to visit every blossom on every stalk, once, twice, maybe 3 times. Soon enough those flowers were turning into hundreds of seed pods — entirely due to this individual (or his dopplegangers).
Now it’s time to take my gardening a little farther into the future. Like this far:
In an effort to understand the way ecosystems work, I’m creating some materially sealed, energetically open microcosms. Translation: I’m creating little “Biosphere 2″ style worlds, except no one wears jumpsuits. Translation: I’m sealing up some plants and bugs in glass jars and seeing what the heck happens.
There’s a certain logic to it. …more