Saving What Remains


The Complexity of Ecosystem Interactions

"The paramount challenge to ecology in the foreseeable future is the cracking apart and resynthesis of the assemblages of organisms that occupy ecosystems, particularly the most complex ecosystems such as estuaries and rainforests. Most studies in ecology focus on only one or two species of organisms at a time, out of the thousands occupying a typical habitat. The researchers, forced into reductionism by practical necessity, start with small fragments of the whole ecosystem. Yet they are aware that the fate of each species is determined by the diverse actions of scores or hundreds of other species that variously photosynthesize, browse, graze, decompose, hunt, fall prey, and turn soil around the target species . . . The greatest challenge today, not just in cell biology and ecology but in all of science, is the accurate and complete description of complex systems . . . Physicists, whose subject is the simplest in science, have already succeeded in part . . . [but] at higher, more specific levels of organization, beyond the traditional realm of physics, the difficulties of synthesis are almost inconceivably more difficult."
E.O. Wilson (1998)

Ecologists work with incredibly complex systems. In the past they focused on the role of individual species, while today there is a greater emphasis on linking biodiversity and ecosystem function. Ecologists attempt to make this linkage by defining membership in "functional groups," or groupings of organisms by physiological, morphological, and phenological attributes. However, defining membership in a specific function group is exceedingly difficult due to the complexity of interactions between species. Ecologists have attempted to apply mathematical theories such as chaos and fuzzy set logic in an effort to describe the ill-defined membership of functional groups and develop an understanding of the complexity of an ecosystem. One eventual goal from this work is to be able to predict the effect on the ecosystem of the loss of a species.



Solutions Introduction
Sustainable Forest Products
Large-scale Forest Products
Medicinal Drugs
Logging (con't)
Conservation Priorities
Reserve Size & Valuation
Intergovernmental Institutions
Communication, Education
Indigenous people
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References (1)
References (3)
References (5)

Sustainable Dev - Agriculture
Foods & Genetic Diversity
Medicinal Drugs & Pesticides
Logging (con't)
Increasing Productivity
Types of Reserves
Developing nations
International Organizations
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References (2)
References (4)
References (6)


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Copyright Rhett Butler 1994-2005