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Innovation Advent Day 20 – How wolves change rivers

Today’s great Advent blog comes from another of our active innovation champions, Ines Faden. Thanks Ines!

Trophic cascades and innovation, or, how wolves change rivers

I came across the concept of trophic cascades recently while watching this fascinating 4 minute video ‘How wolves change rivers‘ (use headphones if you are watching at work as it starts with some fierce howling). It tells the story of the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park and the changes that ensued – an impressive trophic cascade!

wolves

Some of you may be wondering what a trophic cascade is. There seem to be hundreds of scholarly articles debating what they are and are not but for now this definition from Encyclopaedia Britannica should help: “An ecological phenomenon triggered by the addition or removal of top predators and involving reciprocal changes in the relative populations of predator and prey through a food chain, which often results in dramatic changes in ecosystem structure and nutrient cycling.”

It’s fascinating to see how a small change altered the behaviour of both animals and nature and vastly improved the ecosystem they lived in – some interesting parallels to our innovation objectives and the powerful consequences that changes in behaviours may have. I find particularly interesting the prompt to take a step back and avoid looking only at the immediate and intended consequences of a small, precise action, but rather to look at the wider environment and potential areas that can be affected, no matter how improbable it may appear at first. At Tideway, we may see potential cascades combined with innovation in areas such as design, training, health & safety and, my favourite, our river transport plans. Our innovation in this area is likely to have a strong cascade effect, some of it we expect and probably some that we have yet to find out!

As it happens, other people felt similarly inspired to establish parallels with innovation and there are a number of recent articles on the subject should you be interested in finding out more. It also links into another interesting subject of bio-mimicry… that may be a matter for another post!

So, for 2017 keep thinking: who’s the wolf, who’s the deer, and where is the river?

4 Responses to “Innovation Advent Day 20 – How wolves change rivers”

  1. Love this video thanks Ines. Reminds me of the ‘butterfly effect’ of chaos theory. Thanks for the warning about the sound, I thought I’d taken good heed but was watching this while WFH, and my cat had a TOTAL SHOCK and bolted out of the room faster than I’ve ever seen before. Whoops! 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing a video that makes you stop and THINK about the ‘law of unintended consequences’ (and conversely, what could be achieved by others in the future through you making the effort now to share your small innovation…)

  3. Nearer to home…the Scottish beaver reintroduction is perhaps another example of trophic cascade http://www.snh.gov.uk/protecting-scotlands-nature/beavers/. Early stages are broadly positive, although the effect on salmonid populations is open to question. The former presence of beaver populations on the Thames system is shown by archaeological evidence of beaver dams found in the east London wetlands, including a small beaver dam dating to the middle Bronze Age that I excavated in 2002, found on a former tributary of the River Roding on the Barking Levels. Suspect any beaver reintroduced to east London would have a hard time of it now!

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