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

7. Dynamic Ecosystems

Holling, C. S. Understanding the Complexity of Economic, Ecological, and Social Systems. Ecosystems. 4/5, 2001. The University of Florida ecologist theorizes how complex adaptive systems appear to be in self-organizing effect across every natural and human domain. Their presence is dubbed a “Panarchy” as a way to combine scalar features with the dynamic interplay between change and persistence as embodied by the Greek god Pan. The review article is based on a concurrent book Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. by Lance Gunderson and Holling (Island Press, 2001). In 2020 regard, as the paper by Jose Ibarra, et al herein attests, this prescient notice of common CAS networks which suffuse and untangle all phases of flora and fauna is now well verified and put into practice.

Hierarchies and adaptive cycles comprise the basis of ecosystems and social-ecological systems across scales. Together they form a panarchy. The panarchy describes how a healthy system can invent and experiment, benefiting from inventions that create opportunity while being kept safe from those that destabilize because of their nature or excessive exuberance. The whole panarchy is therefore both creative and conserving. An analysis of this process helps to clarify the meaning of “sustainable development.” Sustainability is the capacity to create, test, and maintain adaptive capability. Development is the process of creating, testing, and maintaining opportunity. (Abstract excerpt)

Panarchy is the hierarchical structure in which systems of nature (forests, grasslands, lakes, rivers, and seas), and humans (structures of governance, settlements, and cultures), as well as combined human-nature systems and social-ecological systems…are interlinked in never-ending adaptive cycles of growth, accumulation, restructuring, and renewal. These transformational cycles take place in nested sets at scales ranging from a leaf to the biosphere over periods from days to geologic epochs, and from scales of a family to a sociopolitical region over periods from days to centuries. (392)

Holyoak, Marcel, et al, eds. Metacommunities: Spatial Dynamics and Ecological Communities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. An exploration of this conception of intricately interlinked ecosystems. Expanding on the work of Simon Levin, a paper by Mathew Leibold, et al views them as complex adaptive systems.

Ibarra, Jose, et al. Nurturing Resilient Forest Biodiversity: Nest Webs as Complex Adaptive Systems. Ecology and Society. 5/2, 2020. This contribution by seven ecologists with postings in Chile, Canada, Argentina, Rwanda, and Ecuador including Suzanne Simard could well be seen from our Earthwise vista as an exemplary 21st century fulfillment of a natural genesis ecosmos. From circa 2000 inklings (SFI, John Holland, C. S, Holling (Panarchy), Simon Levin) to these 2020s, the wide and deep discovery of a universal self-organizing process via many diverse, interactive entities is now robustly evident. As the Abstract notes, this entry describes its presence across diverse scales of flora and fauna ecosystems. And as the whole website reports, a similar, iconic occasion has likewise been found from galactic clusters and quantum networks to life’s origin, as evolutionary gestation, anatomic metabolism, neural cognition, animal groupings and onto our global sapiensphere.

Forests are complex adaptive systems in which properties at higher levels emerge from localized networks of many entities interacting at lower levels, allowing the development of multiple ecological pathways and processes. Cavity-nesters exist within networks known as “nest webs” that link trees, excavators, (woodpeckers), and nonexcavators (many songbirds, ducks, raptors) at the community level. We use the idea of panarchy (interacting adaptive cycles at multiple spatio-temporal scales) to expand the nest web concept to levels from single tree to whole biome. We then assess properties of nest web systems (redundancy, heterogeneity, memory, nonlinearity) from our studies in temperate, subtropical, and tropical forests across the Americas. Although nest webs from Chile, Canada, Argentina, and Ecuador have independent regimes, they share these main features of complex adaptive systems. (Abstract excerpt)

Jorgensen, Sven and Felix Muller, eds. Handbook of Ecosystems Theories and Management. Boca Raton, FL: Lewis Publishers, 2000. A reference work about the paradigm shift in ecology from a view of nature in balance to one of complex open systems in a far-from-equilibrium state. Authors consider various aspects such as self-organization, information, thermodynamics, hierarchies and criticality.

Jorgensen, Sven, editor-in-chief. Encyclopedia of Ecology. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2008. A five volume, 5000 page compendium that covers in depth and insight this vital earthscape subject. Over 500 authorities from around the world, such as David Orr (Ecological Systems), Victoria Dawson (Ecofeminism), Robert Ulanowicz (Autocatalysis), Elinor Ostrom (Tragedy of Commons), and Penelope Boston (Gaia), weigh in on every theoretical and practical aspect. As the editor cites next, the endeavor is meant to convey an essential interconnectedness of all life from microbes to a metropolis, each and all within a viable biosphere. In this regard, several Russian scientists and others turn to philosophical guidance from the thought and writings of the geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky (1863 – 1945). As a result, the project imbues a phenomenal cosmos whose “living matter” evolves and emerges by innate, self-organizing propensities through geological, biological, and cognitive knowledge spheres. Ideally then, such a natural environmental wisdom ought to be applied in a respectful way to transform consumptive civilizations to a more viable and sustainable ecosphere.

The encyclopedia is based on a broad and inclusive view of ecology with an emphasis on holistic perspectives. Holism arises because organisms are irreducible from each other and their environments. Therefore, tone and tendency in ecology is toward the holistic range along the continuum of holism-reductionism in science. We can observe and study trees, but we must never forget that the trees are components with the forest system. Ecology deals with the structure and functioning of nature as a system. (3, Sven Jorgenson)

Jorgensen, Sven, et al. A New Ecology: Systems Perspective. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2007. Nine ecologists, namely the lead author, Simone Bastianoni, Brian Fath, Felix Muller, Joao Marques, Soren Nielsen, Bernard Patten, Enzo Tiezzi, and Robert Ulanowicz, strive to gather, synthesize, and articulate via nonlinear thermodynamics and complexity science such theoretical ecosystem properties as openness, connectivity, hierarchy, dynamic life cycles, and robustness.

Jovani, Roger and Jose Tella. Fractal Bird Nest Distribution Produces Scale-Free Colony Sizes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 274/2465, 2007. A research report from the Biological Station of Donana, Spain finds, if one might reflect, a universality of self-similar scale-invariance (nested nests) whereof storks cluster in trees in the same fashion as galaxies and genomes. (Compare also with May Lim, et al, for ethnic cultures.) Once again a novel, self-generating nature employs and displays the same recursive pattern and process everywhere.

Thus, although storks were locally highly clumped even with tens of nests in a single tree, the population was not structured in colonies (a simple clustered distribution) as previously thought. Rather they were distributed in a continuous hierarchical set of clusters within clusters across scales, clusters lacking the commonly assumed characteristic mean size. These quantitative solutions to previously perceived scaling problems will potentially improve our understanding of the ecology and evolution of bird coloniality and animal spacing patterns and group living in general. (2465)

More generally, these results intimately link colony size variation and spatial distribution, by realizing that colony size variation was the outcome of the spatial distribution of nests, but not the reverse. This supports empirically the idea that colony size variation is intrinsically related to settlement decisions of individuals, also reinforcing the recent suggestion that self-organization processes could be behind these (and other) clustering patterns. (2469)

Kaitala, Hiroya, et al, eds. Mutualism and Community Organization. New York: Oxford University Press. 1993. An initial attempt toward a revised ecology which can emphasize holism, synergy, symbiosis, and connectionism.

Kefi, Sonia, et al. How Structured Is the Entangled Bank? The Surprisingly Simple Organization of Multiplex Ecological Networks Leads to Increased Persistence and Resilience. PLoS Biology. Online August, 2016. A good example of how the 2010s discernment of a network nature from cosmic webs to social media can serve to explain every realm. Here French, Chilean, and American scientists attest that the latest theories reveal heretofore unnoticed, common interconnections between all manner of fauna and flora. As a result, 157 years after The Origin of Species a mathematical ecological milieu can be described that would surely please Charles Darwin. And as Network Physics, and this whole site seeks to report, if of a mind to do so, a worldwise discovery of a procreative genesis uniVerse can be seen in our midst which we seem meant to read, realize, save and intentionally continue.

Species are linked to each other by a myriad of positive and negative interactions. This complex spectrum of interactions constitutes a network of links that mediates ecological communities’ response to perturbations, such as exploitation and climate change. In the last decades, there have been great advances in the study of intricate ecological networks. We have, nonetheless, lacked both the data and the tools to more rigorously understand the patterning of multiple interaction types between species (i.e., “multiplex networks”), as well as their consequences for community dynamics. Using network statistical modeling applied to a comprehensive ecological network, which includes trophic and diverse non-trophic links, we provide a first glimpse at what the full “entangled bank” of species looks like. The community exhibits clear multidimensional structure, which is taxonomically coherent and broadly predictable from species traits. Moreover, dynamic simulations suggest that this non-random patterning of how diverse non-trophic interactions map onto the food web could allow for higher species persistence and higher total biomass than expected by chance and tends to promote a higher robustness to extinctions. (Abstract)

Keil, Petr, et al. Macroecological and Macroevolutionary Patterns Emerge in the Universe of GNU/Linux Operating Systems. Ecography. 41/11, 2018. This rich paper by European theoretical ecologists is reviewed more in Common Principles.

Keitt, Timothy, et al. Scaling in the Growth of Geographically Subdivided Populations. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B. 357/627, 2002. Statistical patterns of variation in growth rates of over 400 species of birds exhibit common, power-law patterns, which are suggestive of general laws at work.

It is interesting to note that our results are in striking qualitative agreement with similar studies from a broad range of social systems, ranging from growth of companies in the US economy to the GDP of countries. (627)

Keller, Evelyn Fox. Ecosystems, Organisms, and Machines. . . For a special section on “new thinking in biology,” the MIT philosopher of science discusses the historical perception from Immanuel Kant to mid 20th century cybernetics to current nonlinear dynamical theory of an animate, developing nature that organizes itself. Reviewed more in Part V.

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