World Building: Revised – Part 14
New to this project: Start with Part 1
Part 14: Ecosystems
It must have become clear, already, that in the building of our own private worlds we must take severe shortcuts. A stroll through science books and websites will prove that you could spend the rest of your life developing one small part of a world-wide system to support life on an alien planet. There just isn’t time. We must choose our battles, so to speak, and select only those broad areas that are needed to be developed for our stories.
Let’s look at ecosystems.
Dictionary.com says that an ecosystem is “A collection of living things and the environment where they live. For example, a prairie ecosystem includes coyotes, the rabbits on which they feed, and the grasses that feed the rabbits.”
On your new world the ecosystem will have to be very simple. We’ll start big and work down. Of course you can drill to any depth in your creation of a world, and your story line may require such an effort in one or two specific areas.
People need to eat. They need to drink. (Again, this assumes that you are making creatures enough like humans that your reader will be able to identify.) Water must be available. It doesn’t have to be easy to get, or “universally” available on your worl—think Dune—but there has to be enough to keep people alive. Food falls into the same category. Unless you intend to feed people to your people—think Soylent Green¯they will need to eat plants, animals, and where available, sea creatures.
Plants need soil and water, animals need food—plants, grains, other animals—and the water, plants and animals need to be renewable.
Depending upon when in the history of your planet your story occurs, agriculture may make survival easier. The domesticating of food and work animals, and animals that hunt for their masters would come first. Next we would find animals that protect their masters, and eventually animals–think creatures like cats and dogs–which comfort their masters, or act as companions. Might some of these animals develop levels of intelligence to do more? Might they learn to speak? (Might they eventually become a threat?)
On a copy of the broad-scale map you’ve made, sketch in lakes, rivers, and streams. If you have mountains with snow, sketch in the path for run-off. Determine where grassy plains might be, or forests which can support animal life. If you have broad or inland seas, consider placing fishing communities near them. Once you know where the food and water is on your world, you will be able to more intelligently place your people.