Beneficial Bugs Challenge Theoretical Physics

INSECTS, MICROBES, PLANTS and other organisms form complex ecological systems with all sorts of synergisms, antagonisms and cooperative interactions, leading oftentimes to beneficial insects controlling what we consider pests. Whether it be forest, desert, farm field or garden, intricate and nuanced ecological communities can be nurtured to provide a measure of “natural” biological pest control.

The nuanced complexity of biological and ecological systems has at times intrigued theoretical physicists usually more attuned to quarks, neutrinos, chaos theory and quantum phenomena. Murray Gell-Mann, winner of the 1969 physics Nobel Prize as a Caltech (Pasadena, California) professor “for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions,” created the Santa Fe Institute (New Mexico) to better focus on “the theory of complex adaptive systems.”

Humans, plants and animals are individually and collectively at the ecosystem level examples of complex adaptive systems. Which is one reason creating sustainable agriculture is such a challenge, and companies such as Rincon-Vitova Insectaries end up with catalogs of 55 pages of beneficial insects, microbes, seeds, traps and other inputs for creating sustainable garden and farm systems. And even then, it is not always easy and can take longer than expected to force changes in even the smallest complex adaptive system that is a backyard garden.

“Unfortunately, it will be a long time before human knowledge, understanding, and ingenuity can match–if ever they do–the “cleverness” of several billion years of biological evolution,” wrote Gell-Mann in his book, The Quark and the Jaguar. “Not only have individual organisms evolved their own special, intricate patterns and ways of life, but the interactions of huge numbers of species in ecological communities have undergone delicate mutual adjustments over long periods of time.”

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