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So I am envisaging a community trying to survive a mostly global disaster without any non human animals and no plants larger than bushes.

What could be used for tools, clothing, food, fuel?

Would it be possible even with significant hardship to survive? I am thinking of somewhere where agriculture is marginal, so plants can be grown but with difficulty. And no machines would be available to help.

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  • $\begingroup$ Without machines or draft animals, farming enough for a society is basically impossible. It's not just the physical labor (which would require more people than the food would pay for), it's also the use of manure as fertilizer. If things are even harder than normal, I think they're back to hunting and... well, just gathering, really. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Apr 18 '17 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ Hunting what? There no animals. Fruit baring plants would likely also die out without animals. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Apr 18 '17 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Mormacil There was supposed to be a strikethrough on "hunting", but SE apparently doesn't support strikethrough in comments. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Apr 18 '17 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ Without pollinators (non-human animals), many plant species will die out, and agriculture will be quite a bit tougher. How did humans survive when all other animals died out? You'd think the survivors would have at least kept a chicken or something. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Wang Apr 18 '17 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ What sort of disaster would leave surviving humans, but not rats or cockroaches? Even if you could provide such a disaster through divine intervention or something, the answer is no. You've just yanked out a large part of the ecosystem, which means the rest is going to collapse. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 18 '17 at 18:15
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This means you need to self pollinate your plants, by hand most likely. But with no machines and no beasts of burden agriculture will be an issue.

I foresee at best small pockets of highly advanced colonies. Probably using hydroponics or something similar to survive. Completely cut off from the regular world in that regard as the world has nothing to offer with no insects, moles or worms.

If that tech level isn't available we still need highly educated people. To understand why regular farming doesn't work. You need highly educated smart farmers to manage something that brings in enough food. Still I see the majority of the settlement being tasked with just food production.

At best our entire civilization collapses and we're reduced to desperate survivors. At worst we simply die out as it takes us to long to adept to this new world.

Your oxygen production will tank obviously but there will be enough stored in the athmosphere for millions of years. A bigger problem is fertility of the ground. With no bugs and bacteria we have no decomposition, no rot. Organic material isn't broken down into new fertilizer. Eventually the ground turns dead.

Eco systems of smaller plants would collapse as pollen and seeds are no longer distributed by fauna. Low diversity ecosystems would form with all their issues. So could we survive? Probably, technically. But it will be hard and unlikely.

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  • $\begingroup$ I may have to tweak to allow insects then. That seems to be a limiting factor. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Jeremy French Apr 18 '17 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ You still need things like worms and moles to breath the ground. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Apr 18 '17 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ @JeremyFrench If you add insects to the question eating them changes the situation dramatically. $\endgroup$ – user25818 Apr 18 '17 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ There is no problem with pollination. Very few domesticated crops require pollination by insects, and none of the staples like wheat, rice or beans do. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Apr 19 '17 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/… $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Apr 19 '17 at 20:16
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No, there would simply not be enough biodiversity.

Ecosystems are very complicated. There would be no insects to break down biomass from corpses. Likely, the bacteria required would not be able to spread either.

There would be no aeration of soil, no pollination, insufficient fecal matter to keep the soil rich, as previously mentioned, no bacteria, no gaseous emissions from the breakdown, no enrichment of the soil through microbes either.

This is of course, not even mentioning the symbiotic nature of much plant life either. Certain seeds can't germinate unless they've passed through the digestive system of an herbivore, or in some cases, omnivores.

The bushes wouldn't last long, and neither would the humans.

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Millions of people do exactly this. It is subsistence farming

People can pull plows.

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Vegetarians survive. Grow peanuts. Grow potatoes. Grow strawberries. Grow peppers and tomatoes. Pollination will be an issue for some plants without insects: have the kids hand pollinate your vegetables. Grow wheat and corn: grains are all wind pollinated.

You want fabric? Grow cotton. Grow hemp.

I am wondering how crop yields will improve in the absence of any sort of insect, bird or animal pests.

No bacteria could be a long term problem for soil. Fortunately each human carries plenty of bacteria with them and these bacteria hit the ground running, especially if you are living on vegetables. Lack of soil bacteria will be quickly corrected.

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Not a problem

First, I assume that by 'no animals' you mean animals big enough to see. If you remove the micro-organisms, then there is a big problem. But as long as you allow the various soil bacteria and nematodes and such, then no big deal.

Some people say pollination will be a problem. This is completely wrong: let me explain. First off, the biggest staple crops in the world (rice, beans, wheat, maize, soybeans) are wind pollinated. Second, root crops and leaf crops do not need to be pollinated to produce the parts that we eat; and many of them do not need pollination do produce seed (though that is nice for genetic diversity). Third, many of the domesticated hybrids are self-pollinating. This was a crucial step in domestication, and it is not a modern phenomenon. Triticum durum or Durum Wheat (used for couscous and pasta) is the first known agricultural hybrid and is first attested about 7000 BC. So not only do we have self-pollinating hybrids now, but producing them is not super hard. And fourth, many tree-like domesticates are propogated by cutting or grafting; such as olives and bananas.

Another objection is that some people say worms are important. This is again not true; worms are important for mixing up the soil layers. This is something that can be done with a hoe, if needed. The actual breaking down of organic matter in the soil is done by microbes (in the worm's gut) which can happen just as well in the soil...or a compost heap.

What to use

For tool, stone and bone work great. There aren't a lot of animals with bones, but humans have plenty. As long as there are shrubs, you can make some smaller wooden tools as well.

For clothing, cotton and linen (from flax) work fine, depending on the climate. Cold climates will be bummer without wool and hides, but you can just layer on the linen.

For food, you have grains, pulses, oilseeds and leafy vegetables aplenty.

For fuel, you still have bushes to burn, and there are plenty of coal mines around too.

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    $\begingroup$ You are way too optimistic about something that would cause a total environmental collapse. BBC regarding losing just bees: "[Bees] are critical pollinators: they pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world. Honey bees are responsible for $30 billion a year in crops. That’s only the start. We may lose all the plants that bees pollinate, all of the animals that eat those plants and so on up the food chain." $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Apr 20 '17 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Azuaron Can you list those 70 crops? The 100 crops might feed 90% of the world, but the 30 that don't require pollination probably account for 80% of that. The only staple on the linked list is the potato, which can be propogated clonally from roots, and doesn't really need bees. The loss of Phaseolus, Vigna and Vicia legumes stinks, but there are still lentils, peas, chicpeas, and soybeans for pulses. Food might not taste as good, but the calories are all still there. And don't forget what I said about hybrids. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Apr 20 '17 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, meant to link the BBC video. How about cotton and flax? Suddenly people don't have clothes. Looks like oilseeds are on the list of "need bees". But anyway, you're missing the ecological collapse part of all of this. Losing some parts of an ecology can have severally damaging repercussions for the entire ecology. Losing all animals and most plants is going to be a global near-extinction event even for plants that don't directly rely on animals. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Apr 20 '17 at 15:21

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