Discontinuities in Ecosystems and Other Complex Systems

Discontinuities in Ecosystems and Other Complex Systems

Craig R. Allen
Crawford S. Holling
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/alle14444
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  • Book Info
    Discontinuities in Ecosystems and Other Complex Systems
    Book Description:

    Following the publication of C. S. Holling's seminal work on the relationship between animal body mass patterns and scale-specific landscape structure, ecologists began to explore the theoretical and applied consequences of discontinuities in ecosystems and other complex systems. Are ecosystems and their components continuously distributed and do they adhere to scaling laws, or are they discontinuous and more complex than early models would have us believe? The resulting propositions over the structure of complex systems sparked an ongoing debate regarding the mechanisms generating discontinuities and the statistical methods used for their detection.

    This volume takes the view that ecosystems and other complex systems are inherently discontinuous and that such fields as ecology, economics, and urban studies greatly benefit from this paradigm shift. Contributors present evidence of the ubiquity of discontinuous distributions in ecological and social systems and how their analysis provides insight into complex phenomena. The book is divided into three sections. The first focuses on background material and contrasting views concerning the discontinuous organization of complex systems. The second discusses discontinuous patterns detected in a number of different systems and methods for detecting them, and the third touches on the potential significance of discontinuities in complex systems. Science is still dominated by a focus on power laws, but the contributors to this volume are convinced power laws often mask the interesting dynamics of systems and that those dynamics are best revealed by investigating deviations from assumed power law distributions.

    In 2008, a grand conference on resilience was held in Stockholm, hosting 600 participants from around the world. There are now three big centers established with resilience, the most recent one being the Stockholm Resilience Center, with others in Australia (an international coral reef center), Arizona State University's new sustainability center focusing on anthropology, and Canada's emerging social sciences and resilience center. Activity continues to flourish in Alaska, South Africa, and the Untied Kingdom, and a new center is forming in Uruguay.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51682-2
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Science, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. PART 1 BACKGROUND
    • 1 PANARCHIES AND DISCONTINUITIES
      (pp. 3-19)
      Crawford S. Holling, Garry D. Peterson and Craig R. Allen

      We describe the organization of ecological systems as panarchies (Gunderson and Holling 2002). Panarchies are hierarchically arranged, mutually reinforcing sets of processes that operate at different spatial and temporal scales, with all levels subject to an adaptive cycle of collapse and renewal, and with levels separated by discontinuities in key variables. Dominant processes entrain other processes to their spatial and temporal frequencies. This entrainment (an interaction among process and structure dominated by one or a few processes within a range of scale) produces discontinuities (gaps) and aggregations (clumps) in animal community body-mass distributions and in distributions of other complex systems,...

    • 2 SELF-ORGANIZATION AND DISCONTINUITIES IN ECOSYSTEMS
      (pp. 20-30)
      Garry D. Peterson

      An ecosystem can be characterized as an interacting set of ecological processes. The interaction of biotic and abiotic ecological processes results in the reinforcement of some processes and the attenuation of others. Ecological systems generally consist of sets of processes that produce positive feedback loops and of constraints of limits that provide negative feedback on these processes (Levin 1999).

      The interaction of process and pattern at one scale produces emergent organization at larger and slower scales. Emergent processes form because of nonlinear processes acting across heterogeneous space (Nicolis and Prigogine 1977). Many small, fast processes repeatedly interact to produce a...

    • 3 DISCONTINUITY, MULTIMODALITY, AND THE EVOLUTION OF PATTERN
      (pp. 31-44)
      Graeme S. Cumming and Tanya D. Havlicek

      Discussions of multimodality in body-size distributions have tended to ignore the role of evolutionary processes in shaping communities. The possible range of body forms is in part constrained by genes, which consist of existing DNA and the mutations that it is capable of undergoing. Most successful genotypes are relatively conservative. Genotypes are expressed in phenotypes, which are affected directly by environmental variables such as gravitational force, the availability of energy, the demands of cells for oxygen, and the amount of pressure exerted by the atmosphere. The phenotypes of individuals must obey both the intrinsic limits set by genotypes and the...

    • 4 DISCONTINUITIES IN BODY-SIZE DISTRIBUTIONS: A View from the Top
      (pp. 45-58)
      Pablo A. Marquet, Sebastian Abades, Juan E. Keymer and Horacio Zeballos

      Body-size distributions have become a major focus of research in ecology because they seemingly reflect the operation of fundamental principles underlying the otherwise idiosyncratic nature of ecological systems (e.g., Hutchinson and MacArthur 1959; May 1986). They have been analyzed at different scales of space and time, from local communities (e.g., Brown and Nicoletto 1991) to continents and the biosphere (Blackburn and Gaston 1994a, 1994b), and from millions of years in the past (Jablonski 1996). At the landscape scale, it has been hypothesized that they reflect the existence of fundamental discontinuities in the temporal and spatial distribution of resources within ecosystems...

  5. PART 2 PATTERNS
    • 5 PATTERNS OF LANDSCAPE STRUCTURE, DISCONTINUITY, MAMMAL PHYLOGENY, AND BODY SIZE
      (pp. 61-82)
      Jan P. Sendzimir

      The influence of animal body size has been documented for a variety of biological (Damuth 1981, 1987; Peters 1983; Lawton 1989) and ecological characteristics, such as abundance (Brown 1984; Damuth 1987; Brown and Maurer 1989), population density (Damuth 1987), and home range (Harestad and Bunnell 1979; Peters 1983). Holling (1992) reversed the direction of inquiry to ask what processes influence body size. He proposed that processes such as foraging for food, shelter, and opportunities to mate may link body size with landscape structure—the size, geometry, and spatial distribution of objects in the environment—although processes related to evolution (phylogeny),...

    • 6 BIOPHYSICAL DISCONTINUITIES IN THE EVERGLADES ECOSYSTEM
      (pp. 83-100)
      Lance H. Gunderson

      Understanding how ecosystems are structured and function across a wide range of scales is important for both practical and theoretical reasons. The increasing span of human influence on the planet (Vitousek et al. 1997) is but one indicator of how processes at one scale aggregate to create emergent dynamics at larger scales. The resolution of many resource issues is plagued by uncertainty introduced by processes operating across different scales (Ludwig, Hilborn, and Walters 1993; Folke et al. 2002). Indeed, many of the surprises chronicled in histories of ecosystem management are a result of such emergence, or cross-scale, dynamics (Gunderson and...

    • 7 DISCONTINUITIES IN THE GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE SIZE OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS AND BUTTERFLIES
      (pp. 101-135)
      Carla Restrepo and Natalia Arango

      Elucidating large-scale patterns in plant and animal assemblages is a key step toward understanding ecosystem dynamics and their likely responses to current and future regional and global threats. An attribute that has been widely used in this context is body size because of its well-known relationship with physiological, morphological, and population-level traits (Peters 1983; Schmidt-Nielsen 1984; Niklas 1994; Calder 1996). For example, body size in plant and animal assemblages has been used to characterize energy and nutrient pool sizes as well as fluxes in ecosystems (Kimmel 1983; Wen, Vezina, and Peters 1994; Cyr and Peters 1996; Cyr, Downing, and Peters...

    • 8 DISCONTINUITIES IN URBAN SYSTEMS: Comparison of Regional City-Size Structure in the United States
      (pp. 136-164)
      Ahjond S. Garmestani, Craig R. Allen and K. Michael Bessey

      In complex systems, interactions between variables at different scales are not regulated by a central controller (Bak, Tang, and Wiesenfeld 1988; Loreto et al. 1995; Bonabeau 1998). Rather, complex systems organize in a decentralized manner via interactions between agents, variables, and the system itself (Bonabeau 1998). Self-organization manifests in structures that appear at a global scale from interaction between smaller-scale variables (Bonabeau 1998). A self-organized system is characterized by the system’s ability to adapt, which leads to broad-scale responses within the system (Hartvigsen, Kinzig, and Peterson 1998). Levin (1998) characterizes the essential elements of a complex system as a sustained...

    • 9 EVALUATING THE TEXTURAL DISCONTINUITY HYPOTHESIS: A Case for Adaptive Inference
      (pp. 165-176)
      Craig A. Stow, Jan P. Sendzimir and Crawford S. Holling

      Temporal and spatial patterns in landscapes are controlled by key structuring processes, each functioning at characteristic periodicity and spatial scales (Holling 1992). This hierarchical structure (T. Allen and Starr 1982; O’Neill et al. 1986) produces discontinuous patterns on the landscape and a clumpy or uneven distribution of its resources across the scales over which animals live. This uneven, discontinuous resource distribution provides variation in the type and amount of ecological opportunity available to species of different body sizes. Small animals depend on the patterns and resources over small-scale ranges; large animals over large-scale ranges. As a consequence, Holling (1992) proposed...

  6. PART 3 CONSEQUENCES
    • 10 DYNAMIC DISCONTINUITIES IN ECOLOGIC-ECONOMIC SYSTEMS
      (pp. 179-192)
      J. Barkley Rosser Jr.

      Without doubt prior to the appearance of human beings, ecological systems experienced discontinuities in their dynamic paths, if only due to dramatic exogenous shocks such as meteorite strikes or volcanic eruptions that probably triggered the episodes of mass extinctions known to have occurred in geological time. We also now know that in contrast to Darwin’s view that “natura non facit saltum” (nature does not take a leap) (1895, 166), evolution may well have proceeded in a more discontinuous, “saltationalist,” manner via punctuated equilibria, with long periods of little change alternating with periods of very rapid change (Gould 2002). However, it...

    • 11 THE ECOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF DISCONTINUITIES IN BODY-MASS DISTRIBUTIONS
      (pp. 193-218)
      Jennifer J. Skillen and Brian A. Maurer

      The body sizes of species within an assemblage are not evenly distributed along a continuum of possible body sizes (see references within Holling 1992; Havlicek and Carpenter 2001). Rather, these distributions typically contain significant discontinuities that indicate species of certain size ranges do not exist within the assemblage (Holling 1992). Discontinuous body-size distributions appear to be relatively common in natural assemblages, although the position and number of discontinuities vary among ecosystems and taxa (Schwinghamer 1981; Holling 1992; Allen, Forys, and Holling 1999; Havlicek and Carpenter 2001). This variation in the location and number of discontinuities implies that ecosystems vary in...

    • 12 CROSS-SCALE STRUCTURE AND THE GENERATION OF INNOVATION AND NOVELTY IN DISCONTINUOUS COMPLEX SYSTEMS
      (pp. 219-233)
      Craig R. Allen and Crawford S. Holling

      Ecosystems are characterized and structured by interactions among biotic and abiotic processes operating at discrete scales. Within scales, these interactions reinforce one another to create persistent structures and patterns. Across scales, different patterns and processes dominate and are only loosely coupled with processes at higher or lower scales. Abiotic processes interacting with biotic elements produce loosely structured hierarchical systems with emergent qualities such as resilience. Reinforcement and inhibition among interacting processes drive this organization. The partitioning of process, structure, and function within and across scales provides resilience to complex systems and opportunities for the systems’ elements—be they species or...

    • SYNTHESIS
      (pp. 234-240)
      Donald Ludwig

      Some of the greatest scientific advances have originated with recognition that seemingly minor fluctuations and variations can reveal a pattern. The supreme example is Darwin’s recognition that individual differences between members of the same species are not meaningless variations from an ideal type, but the basis for natural selection. This process was the foundation for Darwin’s theory of evolution. A second example is Karl Jansky’s recognition that some of the static that interfered with trans-Atlantic radio transmission originated from the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Jansky’s insight led to the field of radio astronomy (see http://www.nrao.edu/whatisra/) .

      The present...

  7. REFERENCES
    (pp. 241-264)
  8. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 265-268)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 269-272)