I'll give a recent example to illustrate the point.
|Myrtle Beech in the Otways - dead trees are clearly visible |
(Photo: John Morgan)
At another site in the rainforest, we observed very large trees that had been defoliated some time ago, presumably because of the fungus. There again was vigorous regrowth from the base, casting further uncertainty on the well-known "fact" that Myrtle Wilt always kills Myrtle Beech. Our observations have confused us - we are observing a phenomenon that is not supposed to occur. Perhaps the story is more complicated than was originally thought. Perhaps the disease is not always lethal. Perhaps there are circumstances where the tree can survive infection.
Of course we have a lot more work to do before we can definatively re-write the story here. But it demonstrates two things. By making observations of nature (and these are very simple observations) - do Nothofagus die or regrow after Myrtle Wilt - and thinking about what we are observing (i.e., the implications of these observations in light of current understanding), we have gained some rather profound insight into the ecology of this rainforest. This means sometimes questioning the accepted wisdom on the topic.
And we haven't yet got our technology out of its toolbox.
Secondly, it highlights that long-term observations of natural systems are crucial to understanding them and making correct decisions about their wise use and management. Dave Ashton knew this - he repeatedly tested ideas about the regeneration and succession of Ash forests over a lifetime. For most of us, we don't have a lifetime to answer the pressing questions such as climate change impacts on biodiversity. But we can gain such insights if we cleverly use revisitation studies and historical datasets (such as herbarium records & quadrat data), use chronosequences (space-for-time substitution), and establish permanent plots for monitoring with specific questions in mind.
I look forward to us further unravelling the Myrtle Wilt story, a story that was once thought written. In the meantime, we need to go off and make a few more observations!