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

7. Dynamic Ecosystems

Kerkhoff, Andrew and Brian Enquist. The Implications of Scaling Approaches for Understanding Resilience and Reorganization in Ecosystems. BioScience. 57/6, 2007. Natural flora and fauna, in variegated biotas, are arrayed in nested hierarchies so as to maintain their viability. A disturbance of this functional constitution can then be used as a measure of their health and a guide to its restoration if perturbed.

Our thesis is that ecological scaling relationships may serve as baselines or attractors describing the steady-state structure and functioning of ecological systems; and, as a result, departures from scaling may serve as indicators of the disproportionate influence of particular structuring processes and their role in organizing, or reorganizing, the ecosystem. (491)

Kohn, Marek. The Needs of the Many. Nature. 456/296, 2008. As part of a kickoff “Darwin200” issue, a broad survey of the past reception and current pros and cons of how to understand the presence of group selection.

Lassig, M., et al. Shape of Ecological Networks. Physical Review Letters. 86/19, 2001. Ecosystems are found to have a characteristic topology analogous to biological systems and quantum phenomena.

Lek, Sovan and J.-F. Guegan, eds. Artificial Neural Networks: Applications to Ecology and Evolution. Berlin: Springer, 2000. The generic network principles developed from how the brain forms and learns are found to apply and help explain many areas from gene regulation and biodiversity to epidemiology and social discourse.

Leveque, Christian. Ecology: From Ecosystem to Biosphere. Enfield, NH: Science Publishers, 2003. A translation of an extensive 2001 work in French on applying systems principles to diverse environments.

Levin, Simon. Complex Adaptive Systems. Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society. 40/1, 2003. The article lays out guidelines by which to study the evolving biosphere in terms of its nonlinear properties of many autonomous agents, diversity, resiliency, localized interactions, cooperation, pattern emergence and so on.

The notion of complex adaptive systems has found expression in every from cells to societies, in general with reference to the self-organization of complex entities, across scales of space, time and organizational complexity. (3)

Levin, Simon. Ecosystems and the Biosphere as a Complex Adaptive System. Ecosystems. 1/4, 1998. The Princeton University ecologist sets the guiding theme for a new journal based on this perspective.

Levin, Simon. Fragile Dominion. Reading, MA: Perseus Books, 1999. Theory and experiment in light of complex adaptive systems which promises to bring a novel appreciation of bioregional ecologies and biosphere viability.

Self-organizing systems have been the fascination of scientists from a diversity of disciplines because the concept of self-organization provides a unifying principle that allows us to provide order to an otherwise overwhelming array of diverse phenomena and structures. (12)

Levin, Simon. Self-organization and the Emergence of Complexity in Ecological Systems. BioScience. 55/12, 2005. Another article is this special section, with an emphasis on ecosystems. The Princeton University ecologist reaffirms his views of a dynamic universality at work in nature from biomolecules to planetary societies.

Ecosystems and the biosphere are complex adaptive systems, in which pattern emerges from, and feeds back to affect, the actions of adaptive individual agents, and in which cooperation and multicellularity can develop and provide the regulation of local environments, and indeed impose regularity at higher levels. (1075) The literature is too diverse and fast moving to allow an adequate review here; suffice it to say that the development of agent-based approaches to understanding all aspects of biospheric organization, from proteomics to nutrient cycling to civilizations, is one of the most active and exciting areas of research, crossing disciplines and yielding new insights into the workings of the world. (1077)

Levin, Simon, ed. The Princeton Guide to Ecology. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. As director of Princeton’s Center for Biocomplexity, Simon Levin has advocated as much as anyone the study of nature’s fauna and flora as dynamical, scalar, interconnective networks. This collection, whose main topics are Autecology, Population Ecology, Communities and Ecosystems, Landscapes and the Biosphere, Conservation Biology, Ecosystems Services, and Managing the Biosphere, favors this nonlinear systems approach. Typical pieces could be “Evolution of Communities and Ecosystems” by Nicolas Loeuille and “Landscape Dynamics” by David Tongway and John Ludwig.

Ecology views biological systems as wholes, not as independent parts, while seeking to elucidate how these wholes emerge from and affect the parts. Increasingly, this holistic perspective, rechristened as the theory of complex adaptive systems, has informed understanding and improved management of economic and financial systems, social systems, complex materials, and even physiology and medicine – but essentially this means little more than taking an ecological approach to such systems, investigating the interplay among processes at diverse scales and the interaction between systems and their environments. (Levin, vii)

Lidicker, William. Levels of Organization in Biology: On the Nature and Nomenclature of Ecology’s Fourth Level. Biological Reviews. 83/1, 2007. In the same issue as Gerard Jagers article, another affirmation of nature’s hierarchy, as here seen by ecologists, of organism, population, and community, to which the author proposes an encompassing ecosystem scale. For this most inclusive domain, the term ‘ecopshere’ is proposed.

The new level must be spatially and temporally scale-free as are all the levels in the natural hierarchy of science. (76)

Lin, Hua, et al. Self-Organization of Tropical Seasonal Rain Forest in Southwest China. Ecological Modelling. 222/15, 2011. While self-organized phenomena are now recognized to span natural and societal realms, this has been difficult to quantify for ultra complex ecosystems. Here Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, researchers find a nonequilibrium thermodynamic approach that utilizies a “maximum energy dissipation theory” to reveal how a typical biota as jungle vegetation can organize themselves.

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