As we are trying to decide to re-name the current geological time period after our own species, The Anthropocene, our world got in the grip of another one, and its associated variants. 

I understand the arguments behind these efforts to define this epoch. Proposing this new name is based on the significant impact of human behavior on Earth’s geology climate, and ecosystem. What I do question is the impact of the name on our future behavior. It is clear that our behavior is changing our environment in ways that are detrimental to our own and many other species that share our world. Naming this epoch after our own species can however also give the false impression that we are in control, can fill us with a sense of (false) pride and belief that we are on top of things. 

So no doubt humans have changed the environment, the onset of the Industrial Revolution, proposed as a favorite date to start this time period, brought about rapid developments. To categorize these developments as either good or bad is not really helpful. Some are developed driven by good intentions, others not, but all can have unintended consequences that benefit or harm ecosystem health in certain ways, it is the nature of the world we live in. 

As humanity has grown into its current role, many of us have become convinced that intention, intelligence, and the ability to inquire into and foresee what is going to happen, is a privilege of our species, thanks to our big brains. However, a number of inquiring minds have also proposed other ideas, of a world that is much more interdependent, based on symbiotic relationships across species. Even proposing a much more important, even directive, role for the microbial organisms in our midst. 

Symbiosis, the living together of two or more different biological organisms, was, after it was first defined as such in the 19th century, long thought to be rare in the living world, and especially associated with lichen, as unique symbiotic organisms. It was thanks to Lynn Margulis however, who popularized the phenomenon in modern science, and showed that symbiosis is ubiquitous in the living world, it is the norm not the exception. Symbiosis can then be defined as a close and long-term biological interaction with organisms that is either mutualistic, commensalistic, or parasitic. These terms refer to types of relationships, where mutualistic is a relationship in which both partners benefit, commensalistic is where one benefits but no harm is done to the other. A parasite is thus not a specific organism, but an organism that is engaged in a parasitic relationship with its host, the parasite benefits from the relationship at the expense of its host. In principle, any organism can be a parasite. 

As a supporter of organic and biodynamic farming I rely on the principles of symbiosis, the fact that biodiversity in all parts of the system helps maintain the health of the system of the whole, a no one can rise to unbridled powers. For instance, our gut community is host to numerous organisms, viruses and bacteria alike, which can either be harmful or beneficial, but most of them behave in support of the system of the whole. Naturally, by sourcing our food from biodiverse soils, we ingest parasitic oriented organisms in this way, but also a host of other organisms that keep these free loaders in check. When the diversity dwindles, however, it is easier for opportunistic organisms to spread. Our widespread use of herbicides in industrial agricultural practices is now recognized to be a cause of the rise in parasitic kinds of organisms. 

Although certain organisms are more likely to act as parasites, any organism can engage in this kind of behavior. What is is harmful for one organism, may actually help another organism to get ahead, good or bad seems relative. 

Lichen, the poster children of symbiosis, are special in the sense that they can survive in extreme circumstances. They are early colonizers. It is that word however, that I used specifically to describe the lichen in a recent article. In that context the colonizing relates to evolutionary processes that we accept as a natural phenomenon. In that same article however, I also used the word Colonizers in a different context. In the later case it describes the behavior of one group of people that harms another group of people. It started me thinking if the three different types of relationships of symbiosis could also apply to the process of colonization. The kind of relationship indicated by Colonialism that I referred to, is then a predominantly parasitic one, at least in my opinion. It is ongoing. 

Maybe then, what characterizes our current time period is the rise in parasitic relationships at the expense of mutualistic and commensalistic ones.