At first glance it is not obvious what this is a picture of. I struggle with my poor photographic skills almost as much as I struggle with biodiversity, and yet these are still the kinds of pictures I take. I won't call it a metaphor.
The fact is this is a picture of a pool of freshwater on a rock face along the Finish coast, and it was teeming with cladocerans - tiny crustaceans that feed on pretty much whatever they can filter from the water column. Rock pools just like this one were made pseudo-famous (at least in the ecological world) decades ago by Ilkka Hanski and other researchers as textbook examples of metapopulations (spatially discrete populations of organisms that are linked by dispersal between the populations). When you pause to think about it, the concept is really cool. The pool is very isolated, may or may not be ephemeral, and yet it is packed with organisms. How did they get there? I occasionally remember that if we cut through all the technical jibber-jabber of spatial ecology, metapopulation ecology, and metacommunity ecology we are left with just such a curious question that could have been posed by anyone and interests everyone.
Many members of the Gonzalez lab, like myself, research nature in a fairly abstract way, tackling theoretical systems or heavily simplified model systems. There are all kinds of advantages to such approaches, but a minor tragedy that results from such minimalist science is a loss of the sheer wonder that you might experience 'out there' were to you stumble upon one of these pools on a morning's walk. The question is rhetorical, but how do we deal with the desire to pin down mechanisms that drive ecological processes, with the sheer wonder (and a skeptic might say incomprehensibility) of reality?