Bio Geo Engineering


Ecology is not only about inter-ecological-feedbacks. Biology shapes the landscape and can be harnessed for construction, protection, and environmental design. The most simple example would be planting trees as windbreaks. Abiotic factors like wind, rain, rivers, temperature, fire, and soil are all modified by biology.

I wanted to make a list of some of the ways ecology directs physical forces and show demonstrations of how impactful they can be. Theoretically ecology could be harnessed to steer these forces in our favor.

Effect description Effect example               
Without plants to slow the speed of water and hold the soil in place, erosion reshapes the land into gullies, exposing soil and carving deep channels.
(Erosion from streams)
For example, after a severe fire burns off all the vegetation, rainfall runoff has much more energy. It can therefore pull much more debris along than it normally does, leading to erosion, flooding, etc.
(Fire effects on runoff)
Mangroves, corals and kelp reduce wave energy and protect the shoreline from ocean surges.
(Mangrove wave energy dissipation)
Animals can have large effects too. Certain species of birds have been known to spread fires.
(Fire foraging by certain birds)
And of course beavers are famous for their drastic impacts on the environment.
(Beaver dam lake and bursting)
Large herbivores can compact the ground, preventing plants from re-growing and producing similar water run-off problems.
(Compaction effects on soil)
Inside streams, the form of the channel is shaped by the speed of the water. Vegetation can change stream channel shape by slowing the water, shallowing, and widening the stream. This increases the temperature and evaporation of the water. It also changes the water quality, as particles settle out and contaminants are strained. These areas act as buffers absorbing drastic changes in flow from storm water and preventing flooding downstream.
(Wetland effects on water speed and filtration)
(Addressing stormwater runoff)
Vegetation can capture, store, and transport water inland by increasing humidity and cooling the environment. One of the ways they achieve this is with leaf-litter and duff acting as a massive sponge that absorbs water, cools the forest, and favors denser vegetation.
(The effects from a blanket of natural debris on soil)
Earthworms can remove this layer having reverse effects.
(Earthworm soil mixing)
Trees and vegetation are historically used in desert architecture to aid in decreasing the temperature by a few degrees in an interior courtyard.
Trees and shrub cover on the tundra can move up the spring melt by 6 days, which is roughly equivalent to 400km south. “Because of the large contrasts in albedo between forest and tundra, the forest produces much greater sensible heating of the atmosphere, which has potential feedbacks to local and regional climate.”
Vegetation can control the location of snow.
(Living snow fences)
Or dunes.
(Dune ecology)
Shellfish form beds which interrupt erosion and flooding from waves. They can be induced to grow into reefs by placing hard surfaces for them to attach to.
(Shellfish effects on water and shorelines)
The original transformation of rock into habitable soil occurs biologically as well physically. Volcanic islands are time capsules showing the transformation from freshly formed rock into more hospitable environments.
(Galapagos transition)
And here is a video with a series of Bio-geoengineering projects by the “Engineering With Nature” branch of the US Army Corp of Engineers.
(Nature engineering projects on various scales)