Have you ever noticed the difference between a natural flowing river and a man-made canal? Canals move straight to their destination while rivers wind back and forth along the landscape as the water journeys towards the ocean. Humans make canals to travel the shortest amount of distance between two locations, such as between the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean at the Panama Canal. If efficiency is so vital in ecosystems, why would nature increase the distance water has to travel to get to the ocean?
One’s first thought might be of course water must wind and bend around obstacles such as mountains, but rivers that flow through flat grasslands and fields show the same behavior. It’s actually small disturbances in topography that set off chain reactions that alter the path of a river.