The Secret Wisdom of Nature

Peter Wohlleben / Greystone Books / 272 pages

What are the consequences of gray wolves being returned to Yellowstone National Park? How do salmon fertilize trees? Why aren’t we neck-deep in dead animals? Do trees migrate? How do earthworms affect wild boar populations?

“All animals and plants are held in delicate balance, and every entity has its purpose and role in the ecosystem.” With this statement, forester and educator Peter Wohlleben introduces us to his newest book, The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things.

Wohlleben takes a holistic and long-term view toward nature. Natural processes, he would argue, are not necessarily what you see when you walk through a forest or a grassland, or what you image you should be experiencing. Humans have modified so much of the world that “natural processes” become synonymous with “what I see today.” Humans have made radical changes to the distribution and population demographics of all species, large and small, in forests, shrublands, and grasslands over the past 10,000 years. For example, today’s interactions of large browsing animals like deer with trees and shrubs, insects, large predators, and even birds—coevolved over millennia—may only have passing similarity to the ecosystem dynamics of the past. And Wohlleben argues that you have to understand these original relationships before you can determine what “truly is worth protecting and what counts as a threat or even a disturbance.” 

Like Aldo Leopold before him, Wohlleben uses a clock analogy to remind land managers that removing one little cog changes the working of the whole system. As he discusses bats and moths, the reaction of forests to climate change, how cranes are affecting the production of Iberian ham, and how trees are “aware” that they are being browsed, I found myself reflecting on another conservationist whose writings greatly influenced the environmental movement… Rachel Carson. Carson’s popular books on life in and near the sea prepared a generation to listen when she wrote Silent Spring. I hope Peter Wohlleben’s message of the secret wisdom of nature also stimulates discussion and debate.

— Dr. Robert Schmidt, AWI Scientific Committee