Permaculture Designers Manual


Section 2.12 –

Stability in Permaculture

The short meaning of stability in an ecosystem is self-regulation rather than a climax (end-point) stability.


Nothing in nature remains forever, not soil or hills or forests. For our fore see-able future we can have dynamic life-support systems, as tribal people have demonstrated to us all over the world, sometimes for thousands of years of constructive regulation.

Thus, stability in ecosystems or gardens is not the stability of a concrete pylon; it is the process of constant feedback and response that characterizes such endeavors as riding a bike.

We are also in an area of uncertainty about the concept of end states or climax in systems-the state to which they tend to evolve. It is doubtful if any such state ever existed, as inexorable climatic change, fire, nutrient leaching, and invasion deflect systems from their apparent endpoints.

Moreover, it is probable that very old systems are also fragile, having been long in a state of maintenance, and we may see sudden or slow collapse in such evolved states.


John Seymour (Ecos, Summer ’81-82), notes the slow loss of nutrients in an old stable dune system at Cooloola in Australia. Here, climax is a passing phase as the virgin dunes lose nutrient status to fire and water filtration to great depths, where nutrients become unavailable to trees. Thus, the study of very old systems shows a retreat from the “most evolved ” (greatest biomas) condition unless some new factor is introduced (ash from a volcano, fertilizer applied by people).

Daniel Goodman [Quarterly Review Biology, 50(3)1 notes that “wild fluctuations” may occur in tropical forests, or in savannah grasslands. Epidemics of pathogens may affect a plant or animal species and sadly decrease its numbers .

Although these natural fluctuations pale beside our own effects on ecosystems, such disturbances, providing they affect only a few species, are not as severe as persistent nutrient loss (or acid rain).

All these effects are under some human control in a developed ecosystem.

Protection from fire, positive nutrient supply to plants, and long term evolutions are possible in terms of human occupancy. In the longer term, however, we too will be gone, and other species will arise to replace us (unless we take the earth with us, as megalomaniacs would do if we give them that chance.

If I can’t take it with me, I’m not going….!“) just as it was the habit of kings to be buried with their riches, horses, and slaves, so modern warlords threaten to bury all humanity as they depart.