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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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Earth Life Emerge
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V. Life's Corporeal Evolution Develops, Encodes and Organizes Itself: An EarthWinian Genesis Synthesis

6. Dynamic Fractal Network Ecosystems

Dunne, Jennifer. The Network Structure of Food Webs. Pascual, Mercedes and Jennifer Dunne, eds. Ecological Networks. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. An extensive historical and topical survey of spatial and temporal topologies and dynamics.

Enquist, Brian, et al. General Patterns of Taxonomic and Biomass Partitioning in Extant and Fossil Plant Communities. Nature. 419/610, 2002. Through complexity theories, the tangled web of forest and field reveals a hierarchical scale where the same form and dynamics hold at each nested level.

The presence of a similar power-function that accounts for over 90% of the variation in taxonomic structure across contemporary and fossil woody plant communities suggests that the processes that promote and/or limit ecological similarity within communities (1) operate in a regular manner across broad geographical gradients, (2) reflect the ecological and evolutionary processes that dictate local composition, (3) uniquely quantify their net influence on community taxonomic structure, and (4) have probably operated in a consistent fashion across woody plant communities for millions of years. (612)

Enquist, Brian, et al. Scaling approaches and macroecology provide a foundation for assessing ecological resilience in the Anthropocene. Philosophical Transactions B. April, 2024. Senior environmental theorists BE, University of Arizona, Doug Erwin, National Museum of Natural History and Van Savage and Pablo Marquet, Santa Fe Institute make a case for wider perspectives as a better way to study, analyze and manage flora and fauna biotas because of their multiple complexities.

In the Anthropocene, intensifying ecological disturbances challenge our predictive capabilities for ecosystem responses. A macroecology of emergent statistical patterns in ecological systems can find consistent regularities in biodiversity and ecosystems by way of abundance, body size, geographical range, species interaction networks, or the flux of matter and energy. We suggest a conceptual and theoretical basis for ecological resilience that integrates macroecology with a stochastic diffusion approximation constrained by principles of biological symmetry. We show how our framework can quantify major disturbances and their extensive ecological ramifications. (Excerpt)

Farnsworth, Keith, et al. Unifying Concepts of Biological Function from Molecules to Ecosystems. Oikos. 126/10, 2017. Farnsworth and Tancredi Caruso, Queen’s University, Belfast, with Larissa Albantakis, University of Wisconsin contribute to a vital, overdue synthesis across ecological theories by way of clarifying definitions, and a range of complexity principles such as autocatalysis and emergent scales. With common, simplified terms in place, the presence of universal formative principles across nature’s tangled bank can at last be realized. See also A Comprehensive Framework for the Study of Species Co-Occurrences, Nestedness and Turnover by Werner Ulrich, et al in the November issue.

The concept of function arises at all levels of biological study and is often loosely and variously defined, especially within ecology. This has led to ambiguity, obscuring the common structure that unites levels of biological organisation, from molecules to ecosystems. Here we build on already successful ideas from molecular biology and complexity theory to create a precise definition of biological function which spans levels of biological organisation and can be quantified in the unifying currency of biomass, enabling comparisons of functional effectiveness (irrespective of the specific function) across the field of ecology. We give precise definitions of ecological and ecosystem function that bring clarity and precision to studies of biodiversity–ecosystem function relationships and questions of ecological redundancy. This type of network structure is that of an autocatalytic set of functional relationships, which also appears at biochemical, cellular and organism levels of organisation, creating a nested hierarchy. This enables a common and unifying concept of function to apply from molecular interaction networks up to the global ecosystem. (Abstract)

Fath, Brian, et al. Ecosystem Growth and Development. BioSystems. 77/1-3, 2004. Further thoughts on ecosystem organization by way of far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics with co-authors Sven Jorgensen, Bernard Patten and Milan Straskraba.

Feagin, R. A., et al. Individual versus Community Level Processes and Pattern Formation in a Model of Sand Dune Succession. Ecological Modelling. 183/4, 2005. This specific study provides a microcosm of nature’s reciprocal interplay of entity (plant, person) and relevant group. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin termed this “creative union.” In so doing, nature can teach a common principle and wisdom that could well serve our human abide.

The results showed that the plant patterns were due to individual plant responses to their environment within their local neighborhood, yet these responses were constrained by the global history of the community. (Abstract 435) The results of this study are an important contribution to the theoretical debate over whether individualistic or community-unit processes drive the formation of pattern in plant communities. The model demonstrates that within sand dune plant communities, both processes affect pattern formation. (447)

Filotas, Elise, et al. Viewing Forests through the Lens of Complex Systems Science. Ecosphere. 5/1, 2014. Research ecologists from Spain, Italy, Canada, and the USA, including Lael Parrott present a review and tutorial to date with regard to arboreal canopies and biomes by virtue of this new integral vista. See Jose Ibarra, et al for a 2020 update and fulfillment.

Complex systems science provides a transdisciplinary framework to study systems characterized by (1) heterogeneity, (2) hierarchy, (3) self-organization, (4) openness, (5) adaptation, (6) memory, (7) non-linearity, and (8) uncertainty. Complex systems thinking has inspired both theory and applied strategies for improving ecosystem resilience and adaptability, but applications in forest ecology and management are just beginning to emerge. We review the properties of complex systems using four well-studied forest biomes (temperate, boreal, tropical and Mediterranean) as examples. The lens of complex systems science yields insights into facets of forest structure and dynamics that facilitate comparisons among ecosystems. These biomes share the main properties of complex systems but differ in specific ecological properties, disturbance regimes, and human uses. We show how this approach can help forest scientists and managers to conceptualize forests as integrated social-ecological systems and provide concrete examples of how to manage forests as complex adaptive systems. (Abstract)

Forgoston, Eric, et al. Stability and Fluctuations in Complex Ecological Systems. arXiv:2306.07447. As the Abstract advises, some 30 scientists from the Netherlands, USA, Austria, France, Israel, and Germany met in 2022 and came up with a thorough mission plan for the next ten years so to achieve a truly global, Earthropocene cellular vitality.

In August 2022, a Stability and Fluctuations in Complex Ecological Systems workshop was held at the Lorentz Center in Leiden, the Netherlands. An interdisciplinary dialogue between ecologists, mathematicians, and physicists then illumed vital subjects and issues to consider over the next decade. Here we outline eight to do areas (1) a better understanding of both temporal and spatial scales; (2) clarify terms and definitions in scientific fields; (3) develop common data analysis techniques; (4) how can computational scientists collaborate with empirical ecologists; (5) improve ways to protect and/or restore ecosystems; (6) include socio-economic effects; (7) learn more about deterministic and stochastic fluctuations; and (8) study biodiversity at functional, taxa and genome levels.

Fortin, Marie-Josee, et al. Network Ecology in Dynamic Landscapes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. April, 2021. M-J F, and Chris Brimacombe, University of Toronto and Mark Dale, University of Northern British Columbia advance mathematical methods by which to quantify all manner of ecosystem structures and processes by way of their innate active network topologies. For much more see a new book Quantitative Analysis of Ecological Networks (Cambridge University Press, 2021) by M. Dale and M-J Fortin.

Network ecology is an emerging field that allows researchers to conceptualize and analyze ecological networks and their dynamics. Here, we focus on the dynamics of ecological networks in response to environmental changes. Specifically, we formalize how network topologies constrain the dynamics of ecological systems into a unifying framework in network ecology that we refer to as the ‘ecological network dynamics framework’. This framework stresses that the interplay between species interaction and the spatial layout of habitat patches is key to identifying which network properties (number and weights of nodes and links). (Abstract excerpt)

Fortuna, Miguel, et al. Evolving Digital Ecological Networks. PLoS Computational Biology. 9/3, 2013. Systems theorists Fortuna, Princeton University, with Luis Zaman, Aaron Wagner and Charles Ofria, Michigan State University, open another window onto the added dimension of intrinsic self-organizing phenomena and forces that serve to channel life’s developmental emergence. These endogenous, independent principles then are seen in effect at each and every scale and creaturely instance.

Evolving digital ecological networks are webs of interacting, self-replicating, and evolving computer programs (i.e., digital organisms) that experience the same major ecological interactions as biological organisms (e.g., competition, predation, parasitism, and mutualism). Despite being computational, these programs evolve quickly in an open-ended way, and starting from only one or two ancestral organisms, the formation of ecological networks can be observed in real-time by tracking interactions between the constantly evolving organism phenotypes. (Abstract)

Franklin, Oskar, et al. Organizing Principles for Vegetation Dynamics. Nature Plants. 6/5, 2020. We cite this entry by a 29 member international team with postings in Austria, Sweden, the UK, Australia, the USA, Japan, Finland, Switzerland, China, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Luxembourg, and South Africa including Roderick Dewar and Ehud Meron as a good example of how the 21st century project to detect and quantify common self-organized patterns and processes across natural environs is achieving its grand goal. We note that the implied, independent mathematical source from whence these features arise also needs to be realized.

Substantial progress has been made in understanding individual plant processes. But the greater challenge is to predict vegetation dynamics in a changing environment. We propose that three general organizing principles — natural selection, self-organization and entropy maximization — can facilitate the development of reliable dynamic vegetation models (DVMs). Here, we aim to clarify their theoretical basis, along with potentials and limit, for improving our understanding of vegetation dynamics and our ability to predict vegetation change. (Abstract excerpt)

Gamarra, Javier. Metapopulations in Multifractal Landscapes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 272/1815, 2005. By using the parameter of lacunarity – a measure of landscape texture or spatial aggregation – the pervasive presence of a fractal self-similarity can be quantified and expressed.

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