Ecosystem Ecology

Rating: ★★★☆☆

David G Raffaelli and Christopher LJ Frid.eds. 2010. Ecosystem Ecology: A New Synthesis. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978 0 521 73503 2.

This slim text, part of the British Ecological Society’s Ecological Reviews, aims to bring a more system-wide view of ecology to bear on questions of sustainable management and conservation. As such it’s another avenue to explore alongside the burgeoning notions of conservation science which tend to be focussed more on the individual.

Since this is a text aimed at highlighting contributions in a new field, it’s reasonable that we start with an overview of the subject and the way it fits into the development of ecology as a  subject. Of course, the idea of the ecosystem as a holistic unit was appreciated right back at the beginning by Elton and Tansley but the addition of chaotic thinking has added the emergent properties of systems to the list. If we bring this right up to date with resilience theory, then we find that inter-disciplinary work is the best way forward for complex problems. So, we accept that the subject has developed partly by innovation of thinking and partly by accretion so that currently the holistic approach works best. Chapter two examines the various threads of population and community ecology and shows how they can be integrated. There is still ther need to find an overarching pattern to ecosystem development and thermodynamics is one approach. It’s fundamental in that all ecosystems obey the rules of thermodynamics and universal because we have yet to find exceptions. It found it’s best proponent in Odum whose many texts and writings have influenced numerous ecologists. Although it fell out of favour with the advent of different perspectives e.g. community ecology, it still has a part to play most notably as a basis for current models. The nest topic is ecosystem health. Started by Costanza, this seemingly simple idea creates much difficulty in being parameterised, although work continues apace with the adoption by the UN and others of so many of the health concepts (a theme repeated in a later contribution). Of course, much of this assumes that there’s a team of inter-disciplinary people waiting for the work and, as we see from the research into this, it’s far from that simple. A final chapter draws together some of the key ideas and shows how they can be put into practice.

This text must be seen as a discussion rather than a text to be used in ecosystem management. It charts a  course and shows some of the linkages and ways forward. It does not aim to be an introductory text (in fact a fair deal of background knowledge is required) but it does aim to bring together people working in allied disciplines by showing them the benefits of co-operation. As such it provides an important synthesis.

Leave A Comment