In today’s post, David LeGros of Algonquin Provincial Park wishes everyone a happy Darwin Day.
Today we seem to know a lot about the world around us: how it works, what lives here and what threatens it.
Honestly, it would be arrogant to think that we know everything; we do not know.
Discovering and explaining how the natural world works involves a lot of observations, patience, note-taking, comparisons, and creativity. It means spending time in nature, observing the changing seasons, observing how organisms interact with each other, their prey and predators, and their respective habitats.
Scientists have documented a great deal of life on Earth, but many species remain undiscovered and understudied, and many are only described and named and we know little more.
People who spend time in nature, trying to unravel some of these mysteries through observations, are called naturalists.
What is a naturalist?
A simple definition is “a naturalist is an expert or student of natural history.”
I like this definition, but if you’ve ever met an expert on a topic, they’re usually quick to say that there’s still a lot to learn and they can modestly place themselves in the student rather than expert category.
Nature always deserves a closer look. Here, a naturalist carefully observes the finer details of an Eastern Pine Elf.
Being a student also means that you are always learning, and I feel like that is where naturalists like to be.
Perhaps the most famous naturalist is Charles Darwin.
Charles Darwin c. 1881
Darwin was always a student of natural history, from his youth until his death in 1882. His most notable efforts included a five-year voyage around the world acting as ship’s naturalist on the beaglepublishing several important works on geology, natural history, natural selection and evolution.
Through his experiences in nature and observations (and those of his colleagues) made throughout his life, he was able to draw new conclusions about how nature works.
Darwin not only made observations that would become the foundations of his theory, but he also used nature as a kind of meditation.
Exploration is always an adventure. Going out to new areas to see what’s happening there is exciting and beneficial. It may not be the beagleBut it took us there!
Faced with difficulties, tensions or intellectual problems, he took a path near his house that he called “El Paseo de la Arena”. Here, in motion and in nature, he could contemplate ideas and solutions. Darwin knew that spending time in nature was good for him and it’s tempting to think he would support Healthy Parks, Healthy People.
Happy Darwin Day!
Darwin helped us understand how nature works and highlighted the value of curiosity, patience, observation, taking careful notes, and working with others.
Share the experience with friends. Many eyes allow many discoveries. Furthermore, they can share knowledge and learn a lot from each other. We are all students of nature.
On February 12 (Darwin Day!), the 213th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, we celebrate not only his achievements and the avalanche of scientific discoveries based on his work, but also the work of others who contribute to our understanding of how nature works.
While very few of us will ever contribute something as monumental as Darwin has, we can all contribute incrementally to science.
Be citizen scientists
Today, we can easily contribute to citizen science projects, such as iNaturalist and eBird, to help document the occurrence and distribution of plant and animal species.
You never know what you’ll find until you look. Hundreds of species of moths can be found in one place during an entire summer.
This data is now being used by biologists and scientists to help conserve wildlife and habitats, manage invasive species, or simply to find out what lives there. Across Ontario parks, there are over 185,000 staff and visitor observations on iNaturalist alone.
Even if you don’t use these platforms, by simply visiting parks, you help support and protect the landscape.
Support provincial parks
Our parks act as natural, living laboratories where scientists can protect and study species and habitats. Ontario Parks protect 9% of Ontario’s landmass, focusing on unique and representative habitats, preserving them and their residents in perpetuity.
Hundreds of research projects are carried out annually in Ontario parks, and this work identifies biodiversity and tests conservation practices and habitat restoration initiatives.
Your registration fees go directly to supporting the research and conservation work done here.
Treat our parks with love and respect.
The people who work in our parks care about nature and they want you to care about them too.
Our parks are more than just beaches and selfie backdrops. Many of the parks’ habitats are rare and sensitive.
Visiting an area during many seasons can give you deep insight. Do you have your own “Sandwalk”?
If we ask you to treat the land with respect, do so. You may not know what’s at risk, but we do. In many cases, it is irreplaceable.
In a world where natural space is shrinking, we work hard to preserve what we have.
Come to nature with curiosity
We may never take a five-year trip around the world in a boat, observing the flora, fauna, and geology of different continents to help us develop a breakthrough theory, but we can take lifelong trips to our favorite places, to enjoy them and understand them in some way.
For every answer discovered, nature usually poses two questions. Stay curious!
While you’re there, connect with our naturalists, our Discovery staff. They are excited to share their knowledge and passion for their park with you.
This Darwin Day (and every day), be curious about the world around you. It’s the only one we have and it’s still full of mystery.