On a pleasant Sunday morning, I observed some interesting happenings along the edge of a forest at Lower Pierce Reservoir where I jog to or play football occasionally. There were some patches of upturned soil on the otherwise flat and trimmed lawn. It was somewhat thrilling because I felt like a detective at a crime scene, gathering clues to figure out what happened. Even better, I also felt like a hunter tracking a prey by reading signs left behind to foretell what might happen in the future. Here’s the story of what I think happened…
In places with sufficient rainfall and warmth, a forest will most likely take over the landscape when the ecosystem reaches maturity. With the abundance of rain and heat in Singapore, any piece of land will either already be a forest or be in the process of becoming a forest. Even on barren land stripped of any vegetation, it is only a matter of time before the pioneer species (eg mimosa, short grasses) start to grow. After that, the tall grasses (eg lalang) take over, followed by the shrubs, followed by small trees, followed by bigger trees, and followed eventually by a proper forest. Any resistance to this process would take effort, like rowing a boat upstream against the flow of a river.
My guess of what happened
One night, a hungry wild boar roamed out of his usual habitat, the forest, to the adjacent grassland. In search of food like tubers and earthworms, he started digging up the grass with his nose to get to the soil underneath. He was quite hungry and went through a long stretch before retreating back to the forest in the morning.
The next morning, the early rising birds were excited to find freshly dug soil. It meant easy access to exposed insects and worms. They gathered around the exposed areas and get their protein fix. In the process, they leave some droppings behind, simultaneously fertilizing the soil and seeding it with seeds from the fruits they ate the day before.
The very same morning, the macaques (a type of monkey commonly seen in forests of Singapore) were having their breakfast in the forest canopy. As with their usual behavior, they like to take a bite of a fruit and then fling it away. In doing so, the macaques share (unknowingly?) the remains of the fruit with other organisms and also spread the seeds far away. Most of the fruits or seeds that get thrown will never germinate for many reasons. Those that land on grass will have difficulty in germinating because grass produces chemicals that inhibit germination of other seeds. However, one particular fruit landed on the freshly dug soil and stands a good chance of germinating.
And so, here is my guess: a forest trying to succeed a grassland. There are many actors in it: the wild boar, the worms, the birds, the macaques, the fruit tree. Interestingly, they are an afforestation team without even knowing it. They are simply going on with their usual daily business and consequently creating a forest without even trying. It’s like “wu wei” (doing without doing) in Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. Unlike us humans, this afforestation team is expanding their natural habitat (the forest) that would provide them and their descendants with more food and shelter. Just next door, we humans are thinking and trying so hard to improve our lives but failing miserably.
Alas, the valiant efforts of the soon-to-be forest will be wiped out when the landscape contractors re-level the uneven lawn for what they deem (vestige of Singapore’s colonial history) as a tidy and orderly park. With their grass cutting team, the young seedlings will not get a chance to mature into big trees. The lawn will still remain as a lawn, until we humans no longer interfere…
“In nature nothing is rushed, yet all is accomplished.” – Lao Tzu