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VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies

7. Dynamic Ecosystems

Bascompte, Jordi and Pedro Jordano. The Structure of Plant-Animal Mutualistic Networks. Pascual, Mercedes and Jennifer Dunne, eds. Ecological Networks. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Whence these intricate food webs take on a very cohesive structure organized in a nested, Chinese Box fashion.

Bascompte, Jordi and Ricard Sole. Modeling Spatiotemporal Dynamics in Ecology. New York: Springer, 1997. On the application of nonlinear theory to complex natural environments. Rainforest ecologies, for example, are seen to exemplify a recursive, self-similar system.

Bastolla, Ugo, et al. The Architecture of Mutualistic Networks Minimizes Competition and Increases Biodiversity. Nature. 458/1018, 2009. From Universities in Madrid and Seville, six “integrative ecologists” update and affirm how animal kingdoms are distinguished by nested arrays of supportive systems. As in similar work across nature and society, the next conceptual step is to realize that such ubiquitous phenomena springs from and images an independent genesis universe.

Belgrano, Andrea, et al, eds. Aquatic Food Webs. Oxford: Oxford University Press,, 2005. The latest research and theory in this candidate ecosystem which is seen to be graced by complex dynamic networks.

Blackburn, Tim and Kevin Gaston, eds. Macroecology. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003. A conference volume to consider how ecosystem studies such as species body size, population and diversity, and so on can be unified per the book’s title. After a century of discerning empirical entities, attention ought now be turned to “universal ecological laws.”

Briefly, macroecology is a way of studying relationships between organisms and their environment that involves characterizing and explaining statistical patterns of abundance, distribution and abundance of the entities that make up those systems. Macroecology explores the domain where ecology, biogeography, palaeontology and macroevolution come together. (xv)

Bohdalkova, Eliska, et al. Universality in Biodiversity Patterns: Variation in Species Temperature and Species-Productivity Relationships. Ecography. 44/9, 2021. Into the 2020s, Charles University, Prague ecologists describe a sophisticated survey across near and far diverse flora and fauna environs which is now able to discern such a common recurrence of spatial and temporal patterns.

Temperature and productivity appear as universal positive large-scale correlates of species richness. However, the strength and the shape of species–temperature (STR) and species–productivity (SPR) relationships vary widely, and are insufficiently studies. We analysed species richness data for multiple taxa in various regions and different clades within global vertebrate classes to test the effects of spatial scale and taxa character on the strength and direction of STRs and SPRs. The effect of temperature on species richness is complex and context-dependent, while productivity is a more universal driver of species richness, largely independent of given region or taxon. Productivity thus appears as the main proximate driver of species richness patterns, probably due to its effect on the limits of the number of viable populations which can coexist in a given environment. (Abstract excerpt)

Bolchoun, Lev, et al. Spatial Topologies Affect Local Food Web Structure and Diversity in Evolutionary Metacommunities. Nature Scientific Reports. 7/1818, 2017. Bolchoun and Barbara Drossel, Institute of Condensed Matter Physics, Technische Universität Darmstadt, with Korinna Allhoff, Institute of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Universite Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris continue their project to quantify endemic animal groupings by way of basic physical theories. The task is also notable because it follows a decade and a half later from Drossel’s 2001 paper Biological Evolution and Statistical Physics in Advances in Physics (50/2, search), which was one the earliest of this kind in these journals. Here is another indicator of the 21st century revolution of a cosmos coming to life that we are trying to document.

An important challenge in theoretical ecology is to better predict ecological responses to environmental change, and in particular to spatial changes such as habitat fragmentation. Classical food-web models have focused on purely ecological predictions, without taking adaptation or evolution of species traits into account. We address this issue using an eco-evolutionary model, which is based on body masses and diets as the key traits that determine metabolic rates and trophic interactions. The model implements evolution by the introduction of new morphs that are related to the existing ones, so that the network structure itself evolves in a self-organized manner. We consider the coupling and decoupling of habitats in multi-trophic metacommunities consisting of 2 or 4 habitats. Our model thus integrates metacommunity models, which describe ecosystems as networks of networks, with large community evolution models. We find that rescue effects and source-sink effects occur within coupled habitats, which have the potential to change local selection pressures so that the local food web structure shows a fingerprint of its spatial conditions. (Abstract)

Brinck, Katharina and Henrik Jensen. The Evolution of Ecosystem Ascendency in a Complex Systems Based Model. Journal of Theoretical Biology. 428/16, 2017. Imperial College London mathematicians press the quest for “universal, characteristic, holistic dynamic properties” which distinguish environments. A current need is their proper distillation and articulation. Toward this end, a synthesis is drawn with the Tangled Nature school and ecologist Robert Ulanowicz’s ascendency theory (search).

General patterns in ecosystem development can shed light on driving forces behind ecosystem formation and recovery and have been of long interest. In recent years, the need for integrative and process oriented approaches to capture ecosystem growth, development and organisation, as well as the scope of information theory as a descriptive tool has been addressed from various sides. However data collection of ecological network flows is difficult and tedious and comprehensive models are lacking. We use a hierarchical version of the Tangled Nature Model of evolutionary ecology to study the relationship between structure, flow and organisation in model ecosystems, their development over evolutionary time scales and their relation to ecosystem stability. Our findings support the validity of ecosystem ascendency as a meaningful measure of ecosystem organisation, which increases over evolutionary time scales and significantly drops during periods of disturbance. The results suggest a general trend towards both higher integrity and increased stability driven by functional and structural ecosystem coadaptation. (Abstract)

Brown, Bryson, et al, eds.. Philosophy of Ecology.. Amsterdam: Elsevier/North Holland,, 2011. Volume 11 in the publisher’s Handbook of the Philosophy of Science series. A major work arranged in two sections as Philosophical Issues in the History and Science of Ecology and Philosophical Issues in Applied Ecology and Conservation Science. Typical authoritative chapters might be Modeling Sustainability in Economics and Ecology by Bryan Norton, Postmodern Ecological Restoration, Baird Callicott, and A Dynamical Approach to Ecosystem Identity by John Collier and Graeme Cumming (search).

Brown, James. Macroecology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. An ecologist seeks an appropriate framework to reflect the multidimensional intricacy of natural habitats.

Complex adaptive systems have several common features: (1) they are composed of numerous components of many different kinds, (2) the components interact nonlinearly and on different temporal and spatial scales, (3) the systems organize themselves to produce complex structures and behaviors, (4) the systems maintain thermodynamically unlikely states by the exchange of energy and materials across their differentially permeable boundaries, (5) some form of heritable information allows the systems to respond adaptively to environmental change. (14)

Brown, James. Macroecology: Progress and Prospect. OIKOS. 87/1, 1999. An update on the discovery of similar, repeatable networks and scales throughout flora and fauna.

The promise of macroecological research is that widespread patterns imply the operation of equally general processes, and universal patterns imply the operation of universal scientific laws. (7)

Brown, James and Geoffrey West. One Rate to Rule Them All. New Scientist. May 1,, 2004. In this popular report, an ecologist and a physicist describe a “metabolic theory of ecology” whereby the metabolic rate with regard to the body size and temperature of an organism is found to scale by a power-law relation from bacteria to the largest mammals.

Is ecology really devoid of universal laws? We think not. The laws are there, just waiting to be discovered. (39)

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