Resolving Ecosystem Complexity (MPB-47)

Resolving Ecosystem Complexity (MPB-47)

Oswald J. Schmitz
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Resolving Ecosystem Complexity (MPB-47)
    Book Description:

    An ecosystem's complexity develops from the vast numbers of species interacting in ecological communities. The nature of these interactions, in turn, depends on environmental context. How do these components together influence an ecosystem's behavior as a whole? Can ecologists resolve an ecosystem's complexity in order to predict its response to disturbances?Resolving Ecosystem Complexitydevelops a framework for anticipating the ways environmental context determines the functioning of ecosystems.

    Oswald Schmitz addresses the critical questions of contemporary ecology: How should an ecosystem be conceptualized to blend its biotic and biophysical components? How should evolutionary ecological principles be used to derive an operational understanding of complex, adaptive ecosystems? How should the relationship between the functional biotic diversity of ecosystems and their properties be understood? Schmitz begins with the universal concept that ecosystems are comprised of species that consume resources and which are then resources for other consumers. From this, he deduces a fundamental rule or evolutionary ecological mechanism for explaining context dependency: individuals within a species trade off foraging gains against the risk of being consumed by predators. Through empirical examples, Schmitz illustrates how species use evolutionary ecological strategies to negotiate a predator-eat-predator world, and he suggests that the implications of species trade-offs are critical to making ecology a predictive science.

    Bridging the traditional divides between individuals, populations, and communities in ecology,Resolving Ecosystem Complexitybuilds a systematic foundation for thinking about natural systems.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3417-4
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    Oswald Schmitz
  6. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    Ecosystems are paradigmatically among the most complex systems known to science. They contain many different components (e.g., individuals within species populations, species within communities) interacting directly and indirectly in highly interconnected networks (Paine 1980; Schoener 1993; Brown 1995; Yodzis 1995; Levin 1998; Cohen et al. 1990). Moreover, system properties such as trophic structure and functions such as nutrient fluxes and productivity emerge from direct and indirect interactions among the component parts (Brown 1995; Levin 1998). This feature of ecosystems fascinates those who have purely academic interests to develop broad theoretical principles that explain the emergence of complexity (e.g., Holland 1992;...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Conceptualizing Ecosystem Structure
    (pp. 10-22)

    Ecologists have long recognized that anecosystemis a conception of nature that considers biotic communities of organisms and the biophysical environment as an integrated whole (Tansley 1935; Leopold 1939; Lindeman 1942). This conception recognized that there were important interdependencies among organisms and material and energy flows within biotic communities, and that biophysical conditions (climate, soil properties, etc.) create the context for species interactions and ensuing ecosystem functions. Yet, modern ecology has been slow to embrace this integrated conception. Ecosystem ecologists have steered toward a process-functional approach (e.g., Lindeman 1942; Odum 1969; Likens et al. 1970) to understand biophysical properties...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Trophic Dynamics: Why Is the World Green?
    (pp. 23-54)

    In 1960 Hairston, Smith, and Slobodkin introduced a new way of thinking about the dynamics of ecological systems by integrating the trophic-dynamic perspective of ecosystem ecology advanced by Lindeman (1942) with a population ecological perspective advanced by MacArthur (1958). The paper was intended to give an explanation to the puzzle: if herbivores eat plants, then when herbivores become abundant there should be less plant biomass; yet it seems that herbivores are abundant in ecosystems, so why is the world green? The explanation, now known as HSS or the Green World Hypothesis (Pimm 1991; Polis 1999) posits that the world is...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Green World and the Brown Chain
    (pp. 55-67)

    The greenness, or conversely relative “brownness,” of the world can be due to the nature of trophic interactions that propagate along the live-plant-based chain of an ecosystem (see figure 2.1). But, consideration of interactions solely along this chain does not address how “brownness,” and indeed greenness, can arise from another important property of ecosystems (see figure 2.1), namely, that most of the primary production in an ecosystem is not consumed at all by herbivores but instead enters the detrital pool as nonliving organic matter (Hairston and Hairston 1993; Cebrian 1999). If it were not for species that decomposed this dead...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Evolutionary Ecology of Trophic Control in Ecosystems
    (pp. 68-98)

    From an evolutionary ecological standpoint, it stands to reason that any species subject to the risk of being consumed by their predators should respond by taking evasive actions to minimize predation risk. Those actions should be undertaken in ways that balance fitness gains from foraging against fitness losses from predation (Mangel and Clark 1988; Lima and Dill 1990; Lima 1998). Here I elaborate how this disarmingly simple conception has far-reaching implications for predicting function, or metaphorically, for predicting how the improvisation plays itself out among different ecological theaters. In essence, when thinking about scaling in ecological systems, individual consumer adaptive...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Whole and the Parts
    (pp. 99-124)

    Individual species have a hand in structuring ecological systems and in exerting some control over ecosystem functioning (Chapin et al. 1997, 2000; Loreau et al. 2001). Because natural systems are comprised of myriad kinds of species, it stands to reason that ecosystem function overall must be in some way related to the diversity of species comprising a system. Even so, it is becoming increasingly clear that species diversity per se is a loose surrogate for the suite of functional roles that species assume (Chapin et al. 1997; Hooper et al. 2005). An important challenge, then, is to characterize those different...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The Ecological Theater and the Evolutionary Ecological Play
    (pp. 125-138)

    Scientists often draw upon literary metaphors to convey complex ideas in intuitive ways. One of the most masterful at doing this was G. Evelyn Hutchinson, who in 1965 published a book in which he likened nature to a grand theater where the history of the biota unfolded in a series of acts of an evolutionary play. Much of the book elaborated Hutchinson’s worldview that communities of species came about via adaptive evolution for niche diversification. Hutchinson’s approach was to look at extant patterns of species diversity, especially nestedness in species’ body sizes or the sizes and shapes of species’ trophic...

  13. Closing Remarks
    (pp. 139-142)

    There are few research issues that have captivated ecologists’ imagination and creative energy more than the question of how to resolve the complexity of ecological systems in order to predict their functions and their responses to perturbations. Ecologists strive hard to build a conceptual foundation that offers a broad understanding of the functioning of natural systems. But, this has been a fundamental challenge of the discipline. Natural systems contain many axes of complexity (species diversity, spatial and temporal scales, hierarchies of organization) that need to be faithfully embedded into theory if ecology is to mature into a more predictive science....

  14. References
    (pp. 143-166)
  15. Index
    (pp. 167-174)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 175-176)