Thanks to Natures Voice the official RSPB Twitter (why can’t Govt conservation organisations tweet their latest thoughts) for this heart-warming story, so rich in the concepts of complex adaptive systems theory and knowledge management, in the Independent today about the butterfly that came back from the dead. I still tell the tale of the Durham brown Argus as part of my training courses to illustrate a species depending on many intricately interwoven factors but this adds a nice epic mythical element to that and I am sure will replace it.
Jeremy Thomas, one of the leading butterfly EXPERTS made SENSE of the natural history of the Large Blue butterfly by observing its behaviour over six summers. He ANALYSED the vital inter-relationships between ant and butterfly larvae, grass length and rabbit population and what emerged was a body of knowledge of that ecosystem that would unbeknown to him would become vital in the coming years. One of the unexpected outcomes of myxomatosis was that a lack of rabbit grazing resulted in the rapid decline and extinction, in the UK at least, of the large blue population.
Many years later, an INTERVENTION RESPONSE based on this knowledge was put into place and caterpillars, from Sweden, reintroduced, leading to the large blue, coming back ‘from the dead’.
The key learning from a complexity perspective is that:
- most of this story is in the Cynefin COMPLICATED domain as there is a direct cause and effect but it takes time to see it and requires an expert to first discover and explain it. There is only one outcome (over evolutionary time the system would be described as COMPLEX as many combinations were possible) and may only be one solution of interacting agents.
- the outcome illustrates CO-EVOLUTION in that each species and the behaviours and interdependencies co-evolved together over a long period of time. Re-introducing a different species of caterpillar to an ants nest would result in a feeding frenzy by the ants.
- The STARTING CONDITIONS were crucial leaving the puzzling question of the which came to the area first – the wild thyme, the butterfly, the ants, the rabbits
- Finally this is another example of a ‘system’ that has emerged and taken itself right to the edge of CHAOS, in that although very stable the whole system can collapse irretrievably with even the slightest change to any agent, relationship or environmental condition. Any similarity with the current banking system or MP expenses system demonstrates the fundamental forces in place in any complex adaptive system.