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One Cubic Foot of Life

Lap-sized habitats, or what Central Park gardens and Polynesian reefs have in common.

UPDATE: The project is now a book, featuring a foreword by E. O. Wilson.

Ask a scientist, and she’ll tell you size is absolute. Ask an artist, and he’ll prove it’s relative. That’s exactly what photographer David Liittschwager did in his One Cubic Foot project, exploring how much of different ecosystems can fit within a single cubic foot of space. (Can you tell we’re on a biodiversity roll this week?)

Armed with a 12-inch cube, a green metal frame, and a team of assistants and biologists, Liittschwager set out to probe five sharply different environments — water and land, from New York’s temperate Central Park to a tropical forest in Costa Rica — putting down the cube in each, then waiting patiently, counting and photographing all the creatures that lived or crossed that space, down to those about a millimeter in size.

The Hallett Nature Sanctuary at Central Park, New York
Table Mountain National Park is an iconic mesa towering over Cape Town, South Africa

The endeavor was just as laborious as it sounds — each habitat took about three weeks to catalog, and a total of over 1000 organisms were photographed.

For clear access to the organisms of Duck River, Tennessee, the team had to lift a sample into a tank

It was like finding little gems.” ~ David Liittschwager

The project is highly reminiscent of a WWF campaign we featured last year, putting a global spin on the concept of ecological microcosms.

Towering a hundred feet over Monteverde, Costa Rica, this tropical cloud forest houses a microcosm of organisms the size of a finger nail
Coral reef in Moorea, French Polynesia, where Liittschwager worked with scientists from the Moorea Biocode Project, an effort to catalog every creature in and around the Moorea

Besides the original concept and impressive amount of work that went into it, the One Cubic Foot project bespeaks the incredible richness of our planet — and the regrettable gray deadness of our man-made concrete jungles: Try setting the green cube in the middle of an LA expressway or a New York City sidewalk.

So next time you venture out into the non-grey world, consider the fascinating and intricate homes and habitats framed by your even footstep.

Thanks, @TEDchris


Published January 26, 2010

https://www.brainpickings.org/2010/01/26/one-cubic-foot/

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