The Lynx & the Hare

Photographer: @ckristo
The silence of the taiga - our planet’s lungs – is characterized by the quiet, towering peaks that climb skyward, the shaggy balsam fir and their stoic photosynthesizing allies, their shallow roots broad and interconnected – a community of arboreal proportions. As green and delicious as their waxy leaves of the needle variety may appear to the passing snowshoe hare, the threat of predation weighs equally on the psyche. And perhaps one of the worlds best studied predator-prey dynamics highlights two creatures that call this biome home, the lynx and snowshoe hare, it’s primary prey. Over the past 150 years, scientists have found that snowshoe hare and lynx populations rise and fall synchronously, that is, in unison. Why, you might ask. Well, the jury’s still out, but what is largely agreed on is that ecosystems have carrying capacities, a maximum number of individuals a system can support (i.e., # of lynx). So, in the case of the lynx and the snowshoe hare, an ecosystem is able to support the steady rise of snowshoe hares up until they are so dense that their population collapses due to a lack of suitable food. With this collapse, their predators, the lynx, closely follow. Over time, the system stables out as the number of snowshoe hares that can be supported by the ecosystem is established, and with them, the suitable number of predators that the hares can support. Over time, the hare population continues to rise, incrementally degrading the vegetation community, which triggers the plants to invest energy into defensive mechanisms, like the creation of alkaloids, until the point at which the plants can no longer nourish the snowshoe hare population, and they crash again, along with the lynx. This is an ancient relationship that speaks to the interconnectedness of our planet - An integral complexity that relies on each cog and wheel, and every plant and animal.
By @Charles_Post