Humans tend to commute in cars alone or use their vehicles for unnecessary trips. By choosing non-sustainable transport methods, we waste energy and contribute to global emissions.
Remoras spend most of their adult life attached to large marine animals, such as whales, sharks and turtles. They have a symbiotic relationship with their hosts that can benefit both of them while having no negative impact on the host. Using a specialised structure on its head, the remora attaches to the host and is moved through the environment by the host. Here the remora takes advantage of the host’s mobility and the food it provides while using very little of its own energy to travel and secure resources. There are often several small remoras attached to the same large animal moving about the ocean.
Be more thoughtful about how we travel and take steps to reduce energy use when possible. This includes taking advantage of public transport, carpooling with others or using sustainable travel alternatives. Like the remora, humans too can “catch a ride” with others and make their trips more sustainable.
Humans often feel that changing their lifestyles to be more sustainable is too difficult or cumbersome. However, cities and human culture are changing how we view and interact with our environment in the face of global change. Adapting flexibly and quickly to these changes is crucial if we are to help our planet and take advantage of new opportunities.
Many species of sea urchin live in intertidal zones of oceans where waves repeatedly pummel them with high forces. They use small adhesive discs to attach to the substrate (sea bed) to avoid being dislodged, which would ultimately lead to death. Conditions change frequently in these areas, bringing storms and heat waves, and sea urchins adapt accordingly. Biology is fundamentally based on evolution through natural selection, where the process of evolutionary changes takes many generations to complete. However, sea urchins and some other organisms are extremely adaptable and are able to change their body to match modified conditions. For instance, sea urchins flatten their skeletons when they are in high wave areas to reduce the chance of being caught and pulled into the current. They also change their adhesive properties depending on the temperature and wave forces they are exposed to by storms or climatic changes. In fact, a few days after a storm, sea urchin populations are “stickier” than before the storm.
Making simple, thoughtful changes to our lifestyles will benefit us in the long run. This may include being open to new ways of eating or taking new forms of sustainable transport. By adapting to new realities, we can find ways to help us live and move better for generations to come.
Despite living in the information age, humans don’t engage sufficiently with the topic of sustainability, nor the opportunity to find more sustainable ways to live.
Tool use, advanced communication and social learning were once thought to be traits only humans possessed. But animals like chimpanzees are more than capable of using tools for their own benefit. For example, chimpanzees and their close cousins, the related bonobos, use tools to open nuts, fish for insects with sticks or cover themselves against the rain with large leaves. These lessons are often passed down to younger generations within a population.
Share your knowledge and experience of living more sustainably with others, so your children and your community can learn how to use your tools and methods to make positive changes.
One of the most unsustainable habits of humans is to take more than we need from our environment. We don’t consider our impact on our fellow humans, animals, plants or the entire ecosystem we live in.
When given the choice, wolves don’t necessarily take the largest prey when smaller prey are available. This is particularly true when there are more small prey available than large. Indeed, most wolf species prefer prey they know and that isn’t too large, unless the prey is vulnerable. Additionally, when wolves are no longer present in an environment where they once were, the ecosystem becomes unbalanced. The herbivores (plant eaters) that wolves feed on aren’t kept in check when wolves are missing. Plants, too, are often diminished, and the whole ecosystem changes. When wolves are reintroduced, the ecosystem will balance and thrive.
Think critically before producing or consuming a product. Ask yourself if you need it and how much you actually need. Think about how you contribute to a more global picture and how production and consumption may change the environment around you. A clear example is making the choice between using a car or an emission-free vehicle. This choice will directly impact how much carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere by your actions. Reducing resource use and thinking globally about your contributions will create healthier and happier cities.
Purchasing imported goods that are transported long distances is not only costly but also unsustainable.
Leaf-cutting ants are fungus farmers. They cut fresh plants, such as leaves and flowers, from their local environment and carry cuttings below ground to chambers that are used to cultivate and grow fungi. These nests can be more than 30 metres across, with many small chambers extending beyond the main nest site. In these chambers ants feed the fresh plant material to fungus gardens, and clean the fungus of pests. The fungus is then used to feed ant larvae.
When shopping for groceries, try to look for locally produced food. Buying local brings food directly from farm to fork, which shortens the distribution chain and produces less waste in the process. Local food is not only more sustainable, it’s also fresher, tastes better and is likely to be a lot more nutritious.
When it comes to energy consumption at home or when commuting, humans tend to use more than they need.
Deep diving sea turtles like the leatherback sea turtle conserve energy when they can and make the most of it when they need it. Specifically, at the beginning of their dives, they spend energy swimming to overcome the buoyancy created by the air in their lungs. As buoyancy decreases with increasing depth due to more compressed lung volumes, they reduce their flipper beats and start to glide. By doing so, the sea turtle uses energy only when it needs it and takes advantage of local conditions where energy can be conserved.
Reducing our energy use really isn’t rocket science. By remembering to turn off lights and using energy efficient products and transport, we can conserve energy and help contribute to a better world. And whenever possible, we should use energy efficient electric vehicles rather than energy and fuel-inefficient cars.
The world is full of single-use and non-disposable products created and used by humans. This causes an increase in pollution, overflow of landfills and the destruction of natural habitats.
Unlike other crabs, hermit crabs don’t produce their own hard shell for protection and shelter. Thus, they must scavenge for shells produced by other organisms. When a hermit crab finds an adequately sized shell, it will move in and retract into its new home when required. As the hermit crab grows, it will eventually get too big for the shell and will need to find a new one. Thus, hermit crabs continuously recycle and reuse shells, often from dead snails, throughout their lifetime. Finding the right fit can be a tricky task, and depending on how hard it is to find a shell in their local environment, hermit crabs may form shell swap groups with each other. They will wait by a shell that is too big or small for themselves in the hope that another hermit crab will come by looking for a new home. If the new hermit crab has a shell that’s the right fit, they switch.
Many end-of-life products, or even products that we don’t need or want anymore, can be reused or repurposed by others. Being more open-minded and conscious about product use will benefit us all. Because the more we can reduce, reuse and recycle, the less damaging impact we can have on the planet. The animal kingdom will thank you.
Humans don’t always plan or make the most of shopping trips, which causes us to go on unnecessary car trips and spend hours in traffic.
Foraging animals constantly balance the costs and benefits of travel, searching, predation risk and how much effort they need to capture prey. Animals that are central place foragers like the Adelie penguin find the most profitable patches and minimise revisits to them. They also carry larger loads back home as the distance from home increases. In other words, they offset the costs of transport against the benefits of the total amount of resources secured: in the case of penguins, the food the parents bring back. Parents spend most of their time in profitable patches of food. Interestingly, ancestral humans were central place foragers and processed their food on site before taking it home to reduce costs; they also set up their homes near good food patches.
Just like the penguin, modern day humans could plan shopping and grocery trips a little better. Instead of making multiple trips to the store in your car, try bringing back what you need for a longer time and then make shorter trips with more sustainable travel options to top up on essentials. You’ll end up saving a little bit of money and a lot of emissions.
Despite being technically connected, humans are quite disconnected emotionally. This limits our ability to feel compassion for other livings things on the planet.
Vampire bats are thought of as dangerous blood-eating menaces. However, they are actually quite altruistic. Every night, bats leave their colony to look for food. Not all are successful. Those that are unsuccessful return to the colony and perform a behaviour to “ask” for help. Those that found food will donate some of what they have to the hungry bat. The expectation is that if the donor bat ever comes back hungry, they will also be met with help in return.
By being like animals and showing care and compassion to others, especially those in your own community, a greater compassion for all life will be developed throughout humanity.
Humans often add extra car trips or commutes to look for resources which wastes time and energy and increases exposure to hazards.
Worker bees share information on the location and direction of valuable resources in their environment using something called a “waggle dance” with their sisters in the hive. By sharing information, workers know exactly where to go to secure resources for the colony and don’t waste time or energy on searching. They also reduce their exposure to hazards in their environment and to predators.
Share your knowledge of valuable resources with friends before they travel, to reduce unnecessary car trips and search time. This could be as simple as sharing whether or not a new restaurant is worth going to, or where to find a great deal. Your friends will appreciate it and you’ll be helping the planet.
Alyssa Y. Stark works at Villanova University, PA, in their Department of Biology. She is specialised in biomimicry and animal behaviours. In definition, biomimicry is a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to solve human problems. Over the last few months, we’ve been collaborating to develop a theory that aims to inspire people to learn from animal behaviours, so we can meet our climate goals and move more sustainably in our cities.