Not much excitement there, other than the fact that when naturalist Charles Darwin first came across the island in 1836, towards the end of his famous five year travels on board his ship, the Beagle, it was nothing more than a barren, volcanic rock, devoid of trees, lacking in water and buffeted by dry trade winds from southern Africa.
In contrast today, Ascencion Island has peaks covered by lush tropical cloud forests, and a fully functioning ecosystem. So what changed to make this possible?
On his return to the UK, Darwin talked to his good friend, botanist and explorer Joseph Hooker about the island. He in turn, set in motion collaboration between the British Royal Navy and the botanical gardens of Kew, to arrange shipments of trees to Ascension. It was a simple plan, plant trees to capture the rain and reduce evaporation from the soil – and it worked!
Ecologist, Dave Wilkinson, from Liverpool John Moores University in England believes there is a lot to be learnt from this artificial eco-system, saying “What it tells us is that we can build a fully functioning ecosystem through a series of chance accidents or trial and error".
Wilkinson thinks that the principles that emerge from this experiment could be used to transform future colonies on Mars, so that perhaps, rather than trying to improve an environment by force, the best approach might be to work with life to help it "find its own way".
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