I am a recent addition to the Foundation for Family and Community Healing, coming on as the Director of Earth Programs in December. I am grateful for this opportunity and inspired about the growth in the future that the Foundation can bring to me and that I can give back to our mission in return.

I grew up in rural South Carolina, a child of two parents who were raised on farmlands in the rural Midwest. As I grew, so did the economic progress and development in my little town. That first stop light burgeoned into many more to negotiate the increasing traffic emerging and entering the adjacent shopping centers and neighborhoods, some of which were placed in my childhood stomping grounds. I experienced my first front-row seat to ecological loss. More so, what was impressionable upon me was a curiosity and a concern about what happened to all the plants and animals that used to be my playmates during a day’s frolic, the plants and animals who were my teachers about the ways and wonderment of nature. While I am the first ecologist in my family, I now appreciate how the environment in which I was raised impressed my passions and future career choices.

I have the greatest respect for the intricate components of our natural ecosystems; yet, I have a realistic and relatable respect for my own species as well. It is a reality that people and society have an instinct to try to grow to their potential if unchecked by limiting forces. Is there a way for everyone, from the plant to the ant to the person to have room to stretch their legs in an environment that still supports their health, wellbeing, and species viability? As a professional ecologist, I now dedicate my days (and
sometimes nights!) to figuring out how we can have such a balance in the integrity of human society and the conservation of the very environments that support our home and health.

As part of our Earth programs, I want to highlight some of the multitude and diversity of voices in nature. I am continually amazed and humbled by the behaviors sustained by organisms in nature, behaviors that are absolutely necessary for their/our survival and well-being! And, there is one thing that we all have in common –a need for a healthy environment that allows us to grow, thrive, and survive. Nature’s organisms can be solitary or communal – perhaps you can think of friends and family that represent both styles. Yet, when you look closer, it is arguable that no individual is truly independent of a need for a supportive community.

With rising technology available to research scientists, we are gaining increasing insight into how organisms rely on their conspecifics (individuals of the same species). Commonly, this reliance is aided by different forms of communication. We usually think of communication as forms of audible verbal communication, but many organisms communicate at frequencies that are not detectable by the human ear. Further, communication can consist of more than vocalizations; it can be transmission through non-verbal chemical or physical signals. In this new Voices of Nature series, we will pay homage to how the many organisms on Earth communicate and contribute to their community by using their voices, voices that are expressed in many different forms, and the majority of which we are just beginning to hear and interpret.

As we learn the language of nature, we can increase our capacity in supporting our communities in nature, the very communities that support our well-being and health as humans, to support a more holistic and successful approach to conservation. We all can learn, we all can be a more meaningful part of community and conservation, by taking pause and listening to the voices of nature.

Written by Dr. Kimberly Andrews, Director of Earth Programs

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