Tag Archives: ecosystems

Lovecraftian Ecosystems – Introduction

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Hey everyone – it has been a while since I posted anything.  In fact, the last time I posted was during the NecronomiCon back in August 2019. This year has been crazy with all of the Harmful Algal Blooms I have had to deal with over the summer and fall as part of my job as a Limnologist / Environmental Consultant. While the blooms are slooooowly dissipating, I have a little free time to start posting again on Lovecraftian Science. I will try to make these posts fairly routine (maybe twice a month) and to do that they may be brief. Also, working on finishing up Volume 3 of the Journal of Lovecraftian Science now that the summer is over. Again, I apologize to everyone who has contributed to the Kickstarter for the additional delays.  Please be patient; I am hoping to ship them out before the end of this year.

I was fortunate enough to give two presentation at the NecronomiCon in August 2019. The first talk was on Lovecraftian Ecosystems so the next series of posts will be on this subject. This first post is a discussion on history of the term of ecosystem.

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The formal definition of an ecosystem is “…a community of organisms and their physical environment interacting as an ecological unit” (Lincoln, et. al. 1988).  The word “ecosystem” was first defined by British Ecologist Arthur Tansley in 1935 and was first used to describe the transfer of material between organisms and their environment.  Again, in 1935 Tansley defined the ecosystem as:

…the whole system (in the sense of physics) including not only the organism-complex, but also the whole complex of physical factors forming what we call the environment of the biome – the habitat factors in the widest sense (from McIntosh, 1985).

Picture2                             Examples of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems

However, it was G. Evelyn Hutchinson who re-defined the concept of ecosystem to be more quantitative in nature.  In fact, it was Hutchinson and his post-doctoral associate Raymond Lindeman who moved ecology from a descriptive “soft science” of the 18th / 19th to more of a quantitative “hard science” of the 20th century. Instead of merely identifying species and describing their life cycles and interactions, math and statistics could be used with models to construct experiments to predict how organisms interact and react in their environment and among themselves.  Hutchinson and Lindeman were limnologists (the sub-discipline of ecology I study / practice) and so many of these ideas were first initiated in focusing on the biogeochemistry and the transfer of energy among trophic levels in lake ecosystems. In a sense, it was logical for ecosystem science to begin with lakes since they appear to be very clearly defined and bounded ecosystems (as will be discussed later this distinct boundary is not the case).

Picture4                                                                         Photograph of a young G. Evelyn Hutchinson

Prior to Lovecraft’s time, the “hard sciences” were thought of as astronomy, physics and chemistry, while biology and ecology were “softer “sciences that focused primarily on descriptions.  This hierarchical view of the sciences was developed and promoted by the French philosopher and writer Isidore Marie Auguste Francois Xavier Comte (1798 – 1857). Comte stated that astronomy was the most general of the sciences, followed by (in hierarchical order) physics, chemistry, biology and sociology. I’m sure Lovecraft would have agreed with this hierarchy of the sciences, with astronomy being the hardest or “most pure.”

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A hard science is typically described as one where controlled experiments can be constructed and performed to test hypotheses, with the use of math and statistics. In turn, the results of the experiments can be used to make testable predictions about the natural world. Over the last two hundred years we have seen the softer sciences utilize a more quantitative, scientific approach and this is particularly the case for biology, including the sub-discipline of ecology.

Ironically, it was the quantitative aspects of astronomy and chemistry that kept him from pursuing a career in either field. As Joshi has cited in, I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (Joshi, 2013), Lovecraft stated:

In studies I was not bad – except for mathematics, which repelled and exhausted me. I passed in these subjects – but just about that. Or rather, it was algebra which formed the bugbear. Geometry was not so bad. But the whole thing disappointed me bitterly, for I was then intending to pursue astronomy as a career, and of course advanced astronomy is simply a mass of mathematics. That was the first major set-back I ever received – the first time I was ever brought up short against a consciousness of my own limitations. It was clear to me that I hadn’t brains enough to be an astronomer – and that was a pill I couldn’t swallow with equanimity.

This is from a letter Lovecraft wrote to Robert E. Howard, dated 25-29 March 1933.

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While the term “ecosystem” was first coined and used in the scientific literature in the early 20th century, it was not widely used in popular culture at the time. Thus, it is not surprising that I could not find the word in any of Lovecraft’s stories or other writings. However, while he did not use the word, many of his stories include several of the ideas and concepts associated with ecosystems and that is what we will review over the next set of blogs. Next time we will talk about the ecosystem-based alterations associated with his tale “The Colour Out of Space.” Thank you – Fred.

From Beyond Part 6 – Invasive Species and Ecosystems

 

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Crawford Tillinghast (by iposterbot).  Did the Tillinghast device open the way for inter-dimensional invasive species to make direct physical contact with us?

As an environmental consultant whose focus is lakes, ponds, streams and rivers, a large part of the work I do is to address, manage and eradicate invasive species.  By definition an invasive species is an organism that has negative impacts on the local ecosystem, which typically results in direct economic or health-related impacts to humans.  Most (but not all) invasive species are “exotic”  which is synonymous with terms such as alien, non-indigenous or non-native species (Alien Species in North America and Hawaii: Impacts on Natural Ecosystems; G.W. Cox; 1999).

Most of the invasive species I deal with (zebra mussels, curly-leaved pondweed, Eurasian watermilfoil) are native to other continents (frequently Eurasia).  In their native lands they have competitors, predators and parasites that keep them under control.  However, once invasive species enter a new ecosystem, where they have not evolved with the native competitors, predators and parasites, they can grow unchecked and have devastating ecological and economic impacts.  A similar situation may be occurring when the Tillinghast device is turned on, as well be described in more detail.

One example of an invasive specie that appears to be showing up on a more frequent basis, at least over the last 5 years, is the water chestnut (Trapa natans). Water chestnut is an extremely aggressive plant and can easily out-compete all native aquatic vegetation (see below).

Lake Musconetcong, located in northern New Jersey, covered over by the invasive plant water chestnut (from the lakehopatcongfoundation.org)

This aquatic plant originates from Eurasia and Africa and was first observed in North American near Concord, Massachusetts in 1859.  Recently, this plant has been appearing in more lakes and ponds throughout the Mid-Atlantic States and its impact on the entire lake-ecosystem can be devastating.  The plant can grow from 1 to 100 acres over one growing season, easily taking over a lake, covering its entire surface.  This eliminates light from entering the water, killing all native vegetation and substantially reducing the amount of dissolved oxygen (DO) in the water.  In extreme cases, the lake or pond can be completely depleted of DO and a fish kill can be the result.

Another major nuisance of water chestnut is its seed pod, which has four sharp spikes (see below) that can easily penetrate a sneaker.  Thus, once these seed pods begin washing up on local beaches, the local economic consequences can be significant.

A single plant of water chestnut I first identified in Westtown Lake in May of 2011 (Chester County, PA).  Note the large seed pond with the spikes.  Since then selective harvesting and seasonal hand pulling was used to eradicate this plant (as of 2013)

Another aquatic invasive species that may seem to be more relevant relative to the aggressive creatures that appear once the Tillinghast device is turned on, is the northern snakehead (Channa argus), sometimes nicknamed the “Frankenfish”.   This fish is an extremely aggressive predatory fish that is a native to Asia, where it is a fairly important source of food.  The snakehead is known to decimate entire fish communities through predation.  They will eat anything that will fit in their mouths and can group up to 1.0 to 1.5 meters long (3.3 to 5.0 ft).  In addition, they are obligate air breathers, which allows them to move from one waterbody to another on their own.

The mouth and teeth of a northern snakehead, a very aggressive predatory, freshwater fish that has the potential to wipe out entire fishery communities in North America (photo from fl.biology.usgs.gov)

Similar to water chestnut, the northern snakehead and countless other aquatic and terrestrial creatures, the extra-dimensional creatures that appear once the Tillinghast device is turned on are exotic, invasive species.  In fact, since they already exist within our same space-time, but not in our same dimension, their appearance can be described as an “invasive ecosystem” clashing with our own.  The potential results of these two distinctly different ecosystems, occupying the same space-time, suddenly having physical contact has been described in both HPL’s story and Stuart Gordon’s movie.

An invasive predatory species “From Beyond” preying on the narrator of HPL’s story (iposterbot)

The invasive planktonic species “From Beyond”, which may serve as food for other, larger species (from Stuart Gordon’s movie From Beyond)

However, even the plankton “From Beyond” can be predaceous on humans (from Stuart Gordon’s movie From Beyond)

Another inter-dimensional, invasive species “From Beyond” (from Stuart Gordon’s movie From Beyond)

The instantaneous lining up of two very different inter-dimensional ecosystems can have profound and deleterious impacts on the species who inhabit both.   Thus, while we can not see it from our own dimensional perspective, the realized intersection of our ecosystem into those “From Beyond” is more than likely disrupting their species as much as ours.

The “overlapping” of two distinct inter-dimensional ecosystems, as a result of the waves generated by the Tillinghast device or Resonator, would have devastating impacts on the species of both ecosystems (from Stuart Gordon’s movie From Beyond).

This article concludes the scientific investigation into HPL’s story From Beyond.  Next time we will be talking about a scientific hoax that HPL briefly referred to in some of this stories – the Piltdown Man.  Thank you – Fred.