No end to marvels

I was asked to select an overall winner [above], category winners and runners up in the BMC Ecology image competition 2014. Here is the short editorial I contributed, with a donation to Trees for Life in lieu of a fee:

How have all [the] exquisite adaptations of one part of the organisation to another part, and to the conditions of life, and of one distinct organic being to another being, been perfected?
So asked Charles Darwin in 1859, articulating one of the central questions of ecology half a dozen
years before the term was even coined. How could such “beautiful co-adaptations” have arisen in every part of the organic world?

Darwin’s answer, subtle and complex, helped make the discipline of ecology possible. And for more than 150 years those who call themselves ecologists have been unpicking astonishing complexity and pattern within living systems. There may be (in the timeworn and not always helpful phrase) a “struggle for existence” in the living world; but there is also so much more. In its stupendous productivity and capability to generate variation, Life presents a spectacle for which a description coined by Pliny the Elder more than 1800 years before Darwin is no less apt: “the great variety of nature at play”.

All those who have taken part in this competition have produced work that contributes to a great tradition of enquiry and analysis that is contemporary ecology. The best work often shows that new phenomena - sometimes startling, sometimes beautiful and sometimes both - are always there to be found with the keenest eye, the sharpest act of attention. At a time of exceptionally rapid change to the non-human systems upon which all life depends, work such as this is important, and shows that while there may is great cause for concern, there is also no end to marvels.

So congratulations to the winner Petra Wester and runner-up Letizia Campioni, and all those whose photographs are highly commended. Your work shows particularly high levels technical skill in photography and/or aesthetic sense (and often both), as well as illuminating fascinating and diverse questions. But well done all who took part. This world is not all about winning competitions. We are all here to wonder, and learn.

Image: Namaqua rock mouse getting dusted with the pollen of the Pagoda Lily while lapping nectar. Petra Wester

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