By Nicole Kallman, Education Manager, McDowell Sonoran Conservancy

When most of us think about ecosystems, we think of the relationships between plants and animals. But the most fundamental relationship in any ecosystem is between the environment and everything that lives there. As the environment changes, whatever lives there must adapt to the changes or be replaced by plants and animals better adapted to the new conditions. Everything is connected and always changing.

Ecosystems are shaped in fundamental ways by the sun’s energy. But locally, many other factors are crucial in determining local climate, availability of water and nutrients, and even the shape of the land. All these determine the challenges and opportunities available to life in that area.
Once life is established in an area, it relates not only to the environment but also to the entire local web of life. Things eat each other and are eaten. Things fight each other for resources and cooperate for survival. Living things deplete and enrich the soil, are affected by and affect the local weather, are shaped by local topography and change it.
Humans are part of this web of life. While we have a disproportionate impact on other living things and our environment, we also are profoundly affected by them and we depend on their stability. We need change to occur slowly enough so we, like everything else, can adapt successfully.
As the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy continues to expand its educational offerings for both the public and our stewards, we are working to develop a spiraling curriculum that clearly demonstrated the interconnected nature of the Sonoran Desert. While learning about the amazing ecosystem, we aim to instill both an understanding of and appreciation for the amazingly delicate balance that makes life in the desert possible. Through this lens, we can see ourselves as not separate from the environment but rather an integral part that both affects and is affected by the changing environment.