One Cubic Foot
How humans’ choice to grow just one crop can affect nature’s balance.
A typical terrestrial ecosystem is a living mosaic of hundreds or even thousands of species, balanced on one another’s existence like a biological house of cards. From plants and bugs down to microscopic fungi and bacteria, there’s a world of life in just a cubic meter.
That’s what David Liitschwager’s new book One Cubic Foot set out to capture. Anything that came through a plastic cube one foot on each side was photographed and catalogued. It’s stunning just how much life there is right under our feet, or above our heads, at any moment. Move the cube just a few feet away? You may see a completely different slice of the biodiversity pie.
However, there are tales of caution within those pages. See those two photos at top? The top photo shows the biodiversity present in a typical slice of shrub land. Cooperative populations of over 100 plants and insects. The bottom? It’s from an Iowa cornfield, home to less than an actual handful.
That cornfield is the victim of the modern agricultural practice of monoculture.
Where there were once hundreds of species, living together on the richest soil in the midwest, there remain a sparse few. In manipulating nature to grow only one crop on a piece of land, we have created an almost alien world. It’s beyond a debate between organic vs. conventional (neither of which are perfect). It’s a question of simple biology, and I don’t like the answer.
Be sure to read Robert Krulwich’s review of One Cubic Foot. And then check out Michael Pollan talking about the danger of monocultures to nature and our diets.