Charles Darwin, English naturalist, champion of evolution and author of the groundbreaking ‘On the Origin of Species’ (1859) had a pet project that involved very little ‘natural selection’.

Darwin, with the help of and Kew Gardens the British Royal Navy, transformed a barren volcanic island into a rich and varied ecosystem, replete with a tropical cloud forest.

photo by Simon and Tracey Watts (TheWatts on Flickr CC)

Tiny Ascension Island lies in the Atlantic Ocean, roughly half way between Africa and South America. In 1836, while exploring, Darwin came across Ascension and was inspired. He decided to create a green oasis, or ‘little England’ on the treeless volcanic island. The Royal Navy shipped in trees from London’s Kew Gardens, which began a miraculous transformation.

Such ecosystems normally develop over million of years through a slow process of co-evolution. By contrast, the Green Mountain cloud forest was cobbled together by the Royal Navy in a matter of decades.

–BBC News

What has happened on Ascension Island offers clues into the creation of ecosystems from virtually nothing. It is normally the stuff of science fiction to talk about ‘terraforming’ or the ‘greening of Mars’, but Dr Dave Wilkinson, an ecologist at Liverpool John Moores University, believes the experiment could lay the foundations for just such an application.

Read more in the following article from BBC News:

Charles Darwin’s ecological experiment on Ascension isle