People worldwide need water for drinking, growing crops, bathing, and even for transportation. The problem is not so much the lack of precipitation as it is distribution. In the western United States, a massive amount of water accumulates as snow on the mountains during the winter season. This snow melts, and the water runs off in spring and summer. Some it soaks into the ground and creates a wealth of aquifers that carry the water underground for many miles. Humans have tapped this water with wells lowering the water table, causing a scarcity of natural springs and water available near the surface. That causes vegetation to dry up and die, making wildfires a major issue. There are natural solutions for wildfires and drought.
Wildfires that have occurred in the western United States in the past two years were relatively rare in the past. As water tables continue to drop, we can expect to see more fires, water shortages, and more demand for this vital resource. Private landowners have found a partial solution by building small rock dams that slow runoff and allow more water to soak into the ground raising the water table. In the Gunnison, Colorado area, landowners have constructed some 2,000 of those dams known as zuni bowls. The result is that places that were formerly brown through much of the summer and fall are becoming green.
Others seeking natural solutions for wildfires and drought reintroduce beavers into areas where there are streams and rivers they can dam and make ponds. In the past, people have trapped and removed beavers to allow land development projects. Today, people are even planting trees for beavers to use for dam building. When beaver dams create ponds and raise the water table, they create a whole new ecosystem restoring birds and other water animals while reducing the threat of wildfires. In July of 2018, the Sharps fire scorched the Baugh Creek region near Hailey, Idaho. The fire reduced everything to charcoal except the vegetation along beaver-built ponds, which remained green oases.
God created the Earth with natural solutions for wildfires and drought. Human activity often upsets that balance, but we are learning how to restore God’s water solutions. Beavers are among the resources God created to do the job. We just need to know how to use the tools God gave us.
One of the most interesting demonstrations of design in the natural world is the way some animals build structures that provide for the needs of other animals. The work of these animal engineers creates new ecosystems for survival.
The classic North American example is the beaver, which goes to great lengths to provide a whole ecosystem that benefits other life forms. One might question whether a dam is necessary for a beaver to eat plant material and raise babies. Dam building requires the beaver to spend massive amounts, and the dam is easily destroyed. A large number of other life forms depend on beaver dams and the ponds that form behind them.
Science News (February 13, 2021) published a similar example found in Australia. Life forms in northwestern Australia have to survive in a challenging environment with little water and extreme heat. How do all those animals survive in the harsh conditions?
The answer to that question is large monitor lizards. Two species of monitor lizards dig holes that are up to 13 feet (4 m) deep with numerous side channels. The monitor lizard lays its eggs at the bottom of the long, spiral-shaped tunnel. After the monitor lizard abandons the nest, other animals use the side channels to escape the extreme environment above ground. Arthropods, toads, snakes, lizards are included in 28 different vertebrate species using the abandoned monitor lizard lairs. Researchers have found up to 750 creatures in a single monitor’s pit and side channels.
Like the beaver, monitor lizards provide an environment that allows life in a place where survival is difficult. In the natural world, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. That is not true when animal engineers are needed to allow a diversity of life in a challenging environment. The more we learn of God’s creation, the more examples we find of intelligence and design, which frequently involve animal engineers.
One of the most interesting examples of design is the massive number of symbiotic relationships that exist in the natural world. These are arrangements two or more plants or animals benefit each other. Sometimes the design of symbiosis is essential for their survival.
Living by a river in Michigan, we see many animals that couldn’t exist without symbiotic relationships. Such common animals as squirrels need a designed symbiotic relationship that allows them gives them a growing abundance of food. We have a wealth of oak trees. In the fall, there are so many acorns on the ground that you can’t go barefoot. I counted 14 squirrels in my yard this morning, gathering acorns. They not only eat the acorns, but they bury them so that they will have a reserve of food for the rest of the year. They hide so many in so many different places that they eat only a small fraction of the acorns. The rest sprout and produce more oak trees. The oak forest spreads, and that means that the squirrel population can increase. The trees feed the squirrels, and the squirrels plant the trees in the design of symbiosis.
I grew up in the upper peninsula of Michigan. The bedrock there is mostly granite. Granite is hard, and water cannot penetrate it. That means that growing crops is difficult in the “U.P.” Animals would have it tough except that God has provided an animal with a symbiotic relationship to the soil and rocks of the area. To retain enough water to take the entire ecosystem through periods of drought, beavers construct dams in the streams. The multiple dams create small ponds that supply the water needs of plants and animals. What would otherwise be a sterile wasteland is a temperate paradise of woods with a wealth of birds and animals all dependent on the beavers. As beavers reproduce, their kits build their own system of dams and ponds, expanding the availability of water for all northern life.
What is the most expensive meal you can order when you go out to eat? Ask for the “diamonds of the kitchen” and you will be served a fungus called a truffle. A three-pound truffle recently sold for $300,000, and yet it is just a fungus. Truffles grow underground on the roots of trees. The truffle keeps bacteria and corrosive elements away from the tree roots, and the roots provide a protected place for the truffle to grow. This is another design of symbiosis. The way most people search for truffles is to have pigs root around trees until they uncover a truffle. Truffles are said to be the most expensive food in the world, but to locate them requires the use of animals that most of us don’t care to be around.
There are countless symbiotic relationships. The question of interest is, how does such a relationship develop? Is it merely by accident? We suggest God has looked at the nutritional needs of all of His creatures. In His wisdom, He has created living things in a way that links their food supply to other living things in their environment. The design of symbiosis is a marvelous creation of God.
We are frequently astounded by what animals can do. As science seeks solutions to problems such as having enough food, knowing how to avoid disasters, and solving medical problems, we frequently see the answers in the designed features of living things. There are many things we can learn from the animals.
How can we have enough food to feed everyone on this planet? One way is to take advantage of animals with high reproductive capacity. A female mackerel, for example, lays about 500,000 eggs at one time. We have relied on animals like cattle which have one offspring at a time, are environmentally unfriendly, and require massive energy to sustain. Many fish, arthropods and mollusks can reproduce massive numbers of offspring, need very little energy input, and give off little or no environmental hazards. Some of them even remove environmentally unfriendly materials.
Can we improve our vision and perhaps restore sight to people who are blind? Studies of the common dragonfly have shown that each eye has 30,000 lenses. Our one lens is limited as to what we can see. The way images are transmitted to the brain in animals allows multiple transmissions. We are learning from insects and chameleons how the brain can reconstruct a useful image from many separate images. A chameleon can move its eyes in different directions, and its brain can interpret the direction and identification of what each eye is seeing independently.
How can we make stronger materials? Beaver’s teeth are so sharp that Native Americans used them as knife blades. The structure of the tooth enamel in the beaver and how the teeth maintain their sharpness is an area where materials science researchers can learn from the animals.
Can we make better drones? Researchers are interested in how high-frequency wing beats can allow better control of flight. Tiny flies known as midges beat their wings over 1000 times a second – twice as fast as mosquitoes. We can even learn from the animals that are almost too small to see.