This article is an introductory lesson in the Regenerative Systems Design Course. It is a Lesson of a Level 2 Module of the core track Ecology & Regenerative Conservation Practices.
Ecosystems are way more dynamic than what they are given credit for. Our current management of built, grazed, cropland, orchard / treed and natural landscapes is entropic (degenerative). The integrity of all these landscapes is degrading rapidly because of our reductionist understanding of what syntropy actually entails. NPK plus some other mineral nutrients is how many agronomists view plant nutrition. However, plants in agroecological farming systems use innate processes and ecological processes to get their NPK plus a whole lot more.
From a whole systems viewpoint, a plant is an active participant in its own nutrition. Plants manipulate the above and below ground environments in concert with other plants, fungi, bacteria, archaea, etc. This is a symphony of purposeful co-operation. For example; rhizophagy is one of the ways that a plant can gorge itself on a smorgasbord of complex compounds such as enzymes, amino acids, lipids, etc. in exchange for more simple exudates. When ecosystems are functioning optimally, they can be exponentially efficient at building a resource base.
The processes involved in syntropic accumulation depends on a whole system to function optimally. Why? The simple answer is that only a whole system can optimally cycle energy, CO2, minerals, micronutrients, compounds and enzymes so that they are available to the ecosystem in the right amounts at the right time. Industrial agriculture, especially precision farming, tries to accomplish this by drip feeding plants with minerals and micronutrients plus a few concoctions. This reductionist approach only works well with fungicides and pesticides!
To explain syntropic accumulation, we can look at a small component of an ecosystem, detritus. The role of detritus is certainly one of the most misunderstood components of a syntropic system, especially in agricultural settings. Why? Reductionists belittle it because detritus is literally complex sugar energy with a few minerals, micronutrients and compounds. However, detritus is essential to syntropy. It is natures drip feeder plus a lot more. In the next few paragraphs, we will focus on the role that detritus plays in syntropic accumulation.
Firstly, mulch fanatics know that by covering the surface, the detritus layer slows evaporation (saves water) and keeps the surface soil moist and cool, thereby providing microbes with optimal living conditions — it allows microbes to increase their activities tenfold to over one thousand fold. Think about the exponential power of that fact for a moment. Really that much? YES! Anyone who has lifted the mulch layer to look underneath, will know that the interface between the mulch and the soil is covered with a web of active feeder roots.
Secondly, carbon-rich & nitrogen-poor detritus feeds saprophytic fungi and other microbes with all the energy and nutrients they need except for nitrogen and oxygen. Diazotrophs, microbes that include bacteria and archaea can fix atmospheric nitrogen (N2). All biological reactions involving the process of nitrogen fixation are catalysed by enzymes called nitrogenases. These enzymes contain iron, often with a second metal, usually molybdenum but sometimes vanadium. Detritus provides the carbon and air provides the nitrogen and oxygen!
Thirdly, when detritus is consumed as an energy source (metabolised) by saprophytic fungi and bacteria, CO2 and water are released. Because CO2 is a trace gas (0.04%), plants need to work really hard to get CO2 from the air! Therefore, the CO2 rising from detritus decomposition optimises CO2 concentration in the leaf zone of plants — this is exponentially significant to the syntropic accumulation cycle. Notably, if the detritus is removed or burnt, all of the CO2 is released into the atmosphere and never gets to increase leaf zone CO2 concentrations!
Fourthly, following on from the third point above, the energy contained in 1 kg of detritus is around 4,302,100 Calories / 18,000,000 Joules / 5 kWh of energy! Normal dry matter production in agricultural settings is over 1 kg per square metre per year — which is equivalent to more than 50 MWh of energy per hectare — therefore over 43,021,000,000 Calories are lost per hectare if detritus is burnt or thrown into a landfill. Globally, that is an astounding amount of energy! This is one of the reasons that a reductionist ‘tidiness’ thinking is destroying our planet.
Fifthly, as detritus is consumed by decomposers and detritivores, the atmospheric nitrogen that has been catalysed by the enzymes produced by diazotrophs, is cycled through the hosts, and then all the creatures in the soil, and ultimately into the plants and mycorrhizal fungi, etc. Much of the energy and nutrients from the detritus fuels a nitrogen cascade that together with a diverse range of processes, creates an abundance of biological compounds which themselves cycle through or are stored within the ecosystem. Syntropic accumulation!
Finally, the collective benefits of a mulch layer, plus the multitude of biological compounds & secondary metabolites that are produced by decomposers and detritivores, cascade syntropically into the below ground and above ground ecologies. When functioning optimally, much of the solar energy that went into building last year’s senesced biomass, remains in the ecosystem as a complex compound. This is the primary mechanism by which syntropic accumulation is able to increase an ecosystems resource base.
Notably, the decomposition of detritus into complex compounds is merely one of many pathways for syntropic accumulation. There are so many functional layers in an ecosystem that only a multidimensional lens can be used to understand it. This is true for conventional thinking, and it is especially true when incorporating new scientific research such as: rhizophagy, endophytes, paramagnetism, natural frequency / resonance, quantum entanglement, quantum tunnelling, quantum wave theory, germ theory vs terrain theory, quorum sensing, deuterium, etc.
Quantum biology really puts the ‘spooky action’ into the secret life of nature! For example: recent studies have determined that photosynthesis is a quantum mechanical effect. Why? Photosynthesis happens at close to 100% efficiency and only quantum mechanics can explain this. And for example, the annual migratory habits of birds are tied to quantum entanglement. And bizarrely, there is also evidence that quantum tunnelling is associated with how smell is sensed. There is no doubt that many answers lie in the dynamics of the quantum realm.
The dynamics of natural frequency, resonance and harmonics is well understood, and it explains a great deal of the almost supernatural abilities of many living things. Many living things have abilities to detect miniscule amounts of pheromones, heat, light, magnetism, resonance / frequency, scents, blood, disease, buried landmines, etc. Much of this ability can be ascribed to being able to decipher resonance. The ability to decipher specific resonances Is found in all living things. Spiritual resonance in humans is a powerful outcome of common goals!
In nature, for example; male moths use their antennae to detect the frequency of the species-specific sex pheromones emitted by females. Like an infra-red (frequency) camera that detects heat, a male moths’ antennae detect the specific sex pheromone frequency — the male moth thus sees the females sex pheromones! Other examples include; to find ‘prey’ mosquitoes fly into an increasing CO2 gradient, and sharks swim into an increasing blood gradient … when attacked by caterpillars, plants emit scent signals (frequency signals) from their leaves to attract beneficial insects like parasitic wasps!
Producing copious amounts of pheromones by something as small as a moth is waste of energy, if not impossible. Using antennae to detect the frequency of miniscule quantities of the species-specific sex pheromones is thus a highly effective energy saving adaption. When plants emit scent signals, they are protecting themselves by saving the wasps a lot of time (energy) in finding prey. More efficient wasps equals less plant predation. A win-win outcome! Energy is ultimately what drives the universe, the galaxies, our solar system, the wind, the waves, etc. and every living thing on Earth.
However, energy is scarce in its abundance! To save energy, biological systems use very specific pathways to recycle or repurpose many compounds. A good example is “vitamin E recycling”, where the antioxidant function of oxidized vitamin E is continuously restored by other antioxidants like vitamin C. And for example; lactic acid — an organic acid produced by the body when glucose is broken down to generate ATP in the absence of oxygen. Lactic acid disassociates into lactate and free hydrogen ions, and the lactate is recycled and used to create more ATP.
As discussed above, a multitude of biotic and abiotic factors determine the make-up of an ecosystem. The complexity of ecosystems is partially due to the diversity of possible outcomes. In other words, wolves can change rivers! And as discussed, removing or burning detritus has knock-on effects that ripple through the entire ecosystem. For example; a consequence of bare soil (desertification) is a reduction of local precipitation. If the ecology of the same area is restored, more rainfall can be expected. The ebb and flow of ecosystems is pervasive and continuous!
Following on from above, ecosystems make their own rain and change their weather / climate. How? Firstly, ecosystems, particularly those with trees, produce both cloud condensation nuclei and precipitation nuclei. Secondly, the heat dynamics of transpiration from living plants has a positive effect on rainfall compared to evaporation from bare soil. Thirdly, photosynthesis is endothermic. A large tree, through transpiration and photosynthesis, cools an area by the equivalent of 10 air-conditioners! All of the above lead to a cooling of the troposphere, and more cloud formation and more rainfall.
Furthermore, heat domes, haze, and a lack of radiation windows are changing our planets climate. How? Earth’s surface heats the troposphere by means of latent heat, thermal radiation, and sensible heat — this is especially true for areas with bare ground. Heat domes are an atmospheric phenomenon — they are made from hot air at high pressure. Heat domes increase haze, inhibit cloud formation and reduce rainfall. The restoration of functional ecosystems reverses the heat dome effect. We thus need to urgently restore the integrity of Earth’s ecosystems.
In conclusion, syntropic accumulation is the net outcome of the triumph of syntropy over entropy. In other words, regenerative forces outperform degenerative forces. The key reason why ecologically optimised ecosystems are exponentially more dynamic, is mainly due to this syntropic accumulation of resources which reduces nutrient and hydration deficiencies for the entire ecosystem. I am sure that you will agree, ecosystems are way more dynamic than what they are given credit for. We need to understand a lot more about ecology if we are to successfully rescue Earth from ecosystem collapse.