Now we have 40 patterns that help to demonstrate ways that complex systems operate. By knowing how complex systems operate, we are in a better position to design them sustainably. But making sustainable plans won’t be enough. Even if initial designs are good, we will eventually face the unexpected, the unforeseeable, and the unknown. We will face new challenges, conflicts, and stress points. Maintaining system sustainability will require management-level decisions. Even in these uncertain and complicated situations, we can look to nature to provide guidance.
In the most general sense, a “problem” can be any situation in which the goals or aspirations for a system are being undermined, put out of reach, or stymied. When problems arise, maintaining sustainability goals requires problem solving, conflict resolution, goal achievement, adaptation, or addressing challenges—which we can lump all into the single term of “innovation.” An innovation is just a new way of doing something. When a system is faced with a problem, innovation will be needed to maintain a status or reach an objective.
Nature abounds with examples of successful innovations. Apparently through trial and error, plants, animals, and their communities have “figured out” how to survive all kinds of amazingly difficult conditions, such as extreme heat, high pressure, high salinity, flooding, extreme cold, low light, low energy, low oxygen, water deprivation, nutrient deprivation, and cyclical extremes.
For example, plants need water to survive, but they have developed many amazing innovations (which are often termed “adaptations” in biological sciences) that allow them to live where there are long periods with hardly any rain. The innovations/adaptations make use of strategies such as water storage, water conservation, and weather timing. Here are some examples of these plant adaptations:
- Dozens of arid-land plant species effectively collect water during moist periods and store it in their trunks, leaves, branches, or roots. For example, many species of barrel cactus (and in fact, most cacti) store water in their stems and rounded trunks. Huge African baobab trees store water in trunks, and the tiny African living stone plants store water in their leaves. Some agave plants in the Americas also store water in their thick leaves.
- Another fundamental adaptation to scarce water is to have very deep root systems. Deep roots can reach down into lower moisture and groundwater layers even when rainfall is absent. The velvet mesquite plant found in deserts of the American Southwest has roots that can extend more than 50 feet downward. Other North American plants of deserts and dry lands with very deep root systems relative to their size are Colorado pinyon pine, sagebrush, tarbush, and desert bitterbrush.
- Some plant species have especially hairy or fuzzy leaves that help to deflect direct sunlight and hot, dehydrating winds. The hairs thereby reduce the amount of water evaporating out of the leaves. Examples of these desert and arid grassland species are North American rabbitbrush, brittle brush, scarlet globemallow, woolly plantain, littleleaf rhatany, and winterfat.
Innovation and Management continues…