Ecology - Ecological Complexity

Ecological Complexity

Main article: Complexity See also: Emergence

Complexity is understood as a large computational effort needed to piece together numerous interacting parts exceeding the iterative memory capacity of the human mind. Global patterns of biological diversity are complex. This biocomplexity stems from the interplay among ecological processes that operate and influence patterns at different scales that grade into each other, such as transitional areas or ecotones spanning landscapes. Complexity stems from the interplay among levels of biological organization as energy and matter is integrated into larger units that superimpose onto the smaller parts. "What were wholes on one level become parts on a higher one." Small scale patterns do not necessarily explain large scale phenomena, otherwise captured in the expression (coined by Aristotle) 'the sum is greater than the parts'.

"Complexity in ecology is of at least six distinct types: spatial, temporal, structural, process, behavioral, and geometric." From these principles, ecologists have identified emergent and self-organizing phenomena that operate at different environmental scales of influence, ranging from molecular to planetary, and these require different explanations at each integrative level. Ecological complexity relates to the dynamic resilience of ecosystems that transition to multiple shifting steady-states directed by random fluctuations of history. Long-term ecological studies provide important track records to better understand the complexity and resilience of ecosystems over longer temporal and broader spatial scales. These studies are managed by the International Long Term Ecological Network (LTER). The longest experiment in existence is the Park Grass Experiment, which was initiated in 1856. Another example is the Hubbard Brook study, which has been in operation since 1960.

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