Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Decomposition - Nature's Recycler

Decomposition In The Forest
Image Credit: Jonny Hansson
Decomposition gets a bad rap. We often think of rotten smells, gross imagery or any number of haunting thoughts when the word is uttered. While it is true that decomposition can be a stench-riddled, foul process, the truth is that it is pervasive in our everyday lives. From the microbiome on our skin to the fungal network in the soil, decomposition is occurring constantly. More importantly, it is the foundation for the future of the biological world.

In general terms, decomposition is the process of taking complex organic matter and breaking it down into simpler organic material. Think of it as a simplification and recycling process.

Consider how intricate the human body is with all the different systems and complex molecules driving the organic chemistry that fuels us. Now think about what happens when we die. All of that is still there, floating around, but stuck in our balloon of skin. How does the energy and matter that we consist of return itself to the ecosystem around us? The answer is, it doesn’t. Decomposition returns it to the environment. It simplifies us to the point where organisms like fungi, bacteria and insects can use us…for food. Kind of grotesque, but fascinating at the same time.

The same thing happens when we see a fallen tree in the forest or compost our garden waste. It will take time, but the tree will be eaten away and repurposed for the next generation of plant life. Some of the next generation is likely to start before the tree even disappears (pictured above). Without decomposition, the world we live in would be unsustainable. Instead, the natural workings around us have figured out a balance between life and death for the continual replenishment of the ecosystem we share.

Organic matter develops to inevitably return to where it came. The cycle is constant. Our organic waste (animal, plant or otherwise) feeds the building blocks of nature – the bottom of the food chain – allowing everything else to flourish. Matter is conserved and recycled to make the most of what this planet has to offer. It may get grimy or a bit uncouth, but decomposition is essential for the world and part of the foundation upon which we stand.

- Contributed by Sterling

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