Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

If sloths endure costs to maintain closed-loop agricultural systems, why can’t we?

Posted 05 Feb 2014 / 0

The New York Times The Sloth’s Busy Inner Life

This is a great story about how paradoxical behaviors can be understood through appreciating mutualisms. If you don’t understand the benefits of algae to sloths and sloths to algae,  you can’t understand this behavior. But you also need to understand how sloths directly benefit moths and how moths indirectly benefit sloths via algae fertilization.

I also like that the sloth is the engineer of a closed-loop agricultural system despite its rather sub-optimal / constrained lifestyle. Living in the tree is great for getting your algae fur farm into the sunlight, but it is unsustainable if you do not return the nitrogen that you consume from that farm to your fur. Also farming moths — who can fly up from the soil, bringing nitrogen back to the algae fur farm — is an ingenious solution to the problem of closing the nitrogen loop. If you have to endure risk of jaguar or coyote predation to keep your farm sustainable so be it. In the long run, enduring cost to be sustainable is more stable evolutionarily.

In a way not quite suggested by this article, we could learn from not just the sloth’s chill lifestyle but also from its agricultural expertise.

Thanks to Dan Wright for pointing out this article to me!

A Minor Post, Adaptation, Articles, Behavior, Behavioral Ecology, Closed Loop Systems, Coevolution, Community Ecology, Composting, Mutualism, Predation, Quantifying Costs and Benefits, Tropical Forest

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