The Web of Life


9/10 A lovely little book (~120p) about ecology. The author is really good at describing all the unseen relationships between all the living creatures and plants, inanimate rocks and minerals and forces of nature like wind, sun and rain. Everything is interconnected and interdependent. The examples of different ecosystems and their evolution really give you a sense for how out of seeming chaos a global natural intelligence emerges. It really filled me with awe and deepened my desire to live closer to nature - to observe it, let it do its thing and be part of it in a sustainable and contributing way. But it also made me feel like whatever my efforts are, they will not be enough if the global majority doesn’t respect the nature and uses its resources in a reckless way. The book has been written in 1953 and I bet the author wouldn’t be too amused with where the world has gone in that time.


It all starts with the rocks and natural elements of wind, temperature, sun and rain. Pounding the rock with water droplets, UV and freezing temperatures, small particles give out, break and turn into dust. The wind and water spreads this dust around, creating sediments that eventually, over many hundreds of years, become the soil. This very first soil serves as the food for the very first primitive plant life that begins the never ending cycle of growth, transformation and decay. The transformation of minerals into plant matter and carbon into oxygen gives rise to the first form of life - the microbes. Over millions of years, one type of life gives rise to the next, always using and changing the environment around itself until it can no longer be supported by it and the next, better suited, life form takes its place. This is the grand story of ecology.


  • “… we may well ask whether man will develop understanding before he destroys himself by destroying his environment. The way would seem to lie in the building of an informed public interest in certain fundamentals. I believe this book to be[…] of immediate interest to every intelligent citizen.” - the conclusion of the foreword (written by the author himself)
  • unexpectedly this book has answered for me what creates the wind. It’s the rotation of the Earth and its changing circumference from the equator to the poles
    • the atmosphere, and with it the air, is spinning with the Earth. At the equator it has to cover the largest distance around the globe, so it is the fastest. The further north or south we go, the less distance there is to cover in a single rotation, so the rotational speed is slower
    • moreover the air at the equator is warm due to the tropical climate, so this air generally rises upwards and expands towards north and south above the bands of cooler air
    • as it ventures away from the equator, it looses some of its speed and warmth and starts descending down. But it is still considerably faster than the original air spinning at this more northerly or southerly location. Thus, over most places on Earth, the wind comes from the west, as this is the consequence of the faster equatorial air descending upon the rest of the globe where the rotational speed is lower
    • but at the equator the wind is generally blowing in the opposite direction (east to west) as the colder returning air is now lacking in speed behind the the ground which is turning underneath it, thus creating an easternly wind
    • so in general, there are two overarching forces to the winds on Earth
      1. the rotational motion from west to east that gives the air its varying speed
      2. the heat from the sun that sets in motion a journey of the warm air from the equator towards the poles and cold air from the poles towards the equator
  • another interesting fact is how rain is formed. Essentially as the warm air (full of moisture) from the equator spins around the Earth, it slowly cools and descends and on its way it meets obstacles - mountain ranges. These mountain ranges cause it to further fly up, cool down even more and in this process some of the warm moisture condenses back into liquid and falls to the ground
    • this explains why it often rains a lot near the mountains and why we have desserts. The desserts are the spots where there’s no big mountain range around that could cool down the warm moister-full air and so it just flies by, leaving the area dry
  • good soil has 3 key ingredients
    • the rock particles (minerals) that give it its foundation
    • the organic matter given it by dead plants and animals
    • and the community of living plant and animal organisms (mosses, fungi, roots, insects, worms, rodents etc.)
  • plants literally take CO2 and H2O, keep the C and H as their sustenance and give us back the Os
  • the nature works such that a certain species of plants and animals will occupy a space up until the point where they themselves create an environment more adapt for different kind of species. So the ecosystem always evolves and one group of species prepares the land for the next
  • every ecosystems has a certain carrying capacity for different types of life it can support. For example a forest can naturally support a certain population of bark beetles that although attempt to eat the trees, are in turn eaten by woodpeckers and so the ecosystem is in balance and naturally fluctuates through periods of more abandoned woodpeckers or more abandoned bark beetles. But this balance can only handle a certain degree of outside influence before it breaks. This is often how we, humans, cause ecosystems to break down. For example, we start to cut down a piece of the forest for wood but in that process we scare out all the woodpeckers with our heavy machinery. The bark beetles now don’t have a natural predator and so their population grows out of control, killing the forest and with it the wood we wanted to “harvest”