From metrics to Monet: The need for an ecologically meaningful guiding image



Willby N (2011) From metrics to Monet: The need for an ecologically meaningful guiding image. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 21 (7), pp. 601-603.

First paragraph: In the early 1900s the French Impressionist Claude Monet (1840-1926) painted a series of large canvases on the theme of water lilies (Nymphéas) and lily ponds. His famous paintings provide one possible ‘guiding image' for lowland ponds and shallow lakes. They capture the disposition, size, structure and orientation of plant beds in a way that no routine biological recording ever could. We don't even need to understand the multiple functions performed by aquatic vegetation in buffering trophic interactions in lakes, stabilizing sediment, oxygenating the rhizosphere or storing nutrients. These are implicit in the stillness and clarity of the water, and surely, no self-respecting large zooplankter could resist taking refuge among the darkened caves beneath those floating leaves. Monet's lilies succeed as a guiding image for shallow lake vegetation because they are tangible and universally and instantly accessible. There are of course many other examples that could be used; Ophelia by Millais (1851) offers a vision for lowland streams complete with shrub-covered eroding bank, overhanging willow, beds of water crowfoot, patches of bur-reed, and small amphibious herbs, all painted in characteristic Pre-Raphaelite detail. However, simple diagrams, photographs or a well-scripted, jargon-free narrative might serve us equally well. For example, Pallis (1911) and Wolsley (e.g. in Haslam, 1978) provide elegantly effective pen and ink cross-sectional drawings of the aquatic vegetation of shallow lakes and lowland rivers, respectively.

Output Type: Editorial

Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems: Volume 21, Issue 7

Publication date30/11/2011

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Professor Nigel Willby
Professor Nigel Willby

Professor & Associate Dean of Research, Biological and Environmental Sciences