The butterfly effect


Newly emerged Monarch butterfly dries its wings before taking off. Image: Su Leslie 2017

“Notice the small things. The rewards are inversely proportional.” — Liz Vassey

In nature, Vassey’s words are particularly true. Whole eco-systems can be compromised by disruption to even the smallest part.

In 1800 Johann Gottlieb Fichte noted that “you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby … changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole”.

Edward Lorenz later described this phenomenon asĀ the butterfly effect.


Monarch caterpillars. Image: Su Leslie 2017


Monarch butterfly emerging from chrysalis. Image: Su Leslie 2017

Scientists now believe that Earth is experiencing a potentially catastrophic loss of biodiversity — with insect species being especially at risk. (See Science Direct article)


Image: Su Leslie 2018


Image: Su Leslie 2018

Diminishing numbers of bees and butterflies have caused widespread concern, and gardeners around the world consciously grow plant species to feed and support these creatures.

But, while gardeners may not like them, snails and other less glamorous creatures are necessary too — consuming rotting vegetation and providing food for other species like birds, lizards and mammals.


Starfish are regarded as a “keystone species” in marine ecosystems — but are sensitive to both marine pollution and water temperatures.


Starfish, seen clinging to a rock on the Coromandel Coast, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2018

The loss of any part of nature’s elegant and beautiful system is a tragedy in itself, but the consequences reach far beyond any single extinction, threatening the whole Earth.

It seems that humans have the power (at least for now) to protect the life-forms that remain (including our own), and reverse some of the damage done. But we’d better be quick.

Posted to Lens Artist’s Photo Challenge | nature