Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
×
Home
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 1
  • Cited by
    This chapter has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Martin, Yvonne E. and Johnson, E. A. 2017. Towards a strategy for Critical Zone science in Canada. The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien, Vol. 61, Issue. 1, p. 117.

    ×
  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: October 2016

1 - Introduction

Summary

The concept of ecosystem, like many ecological concepts that have come down to us from the early developments in ecology, has a rather elusive meaning. A. G. Tansley's (1935) original definition of ecosystem states: “the more fundamental conception is ‘as it seems to me’ the whole system (in the sense of physics) including not only the organism complex but the whole complex of physical factors we call the environment of the biome—the habitat factors in the widest sense.” However, “system” is never defined or further discussed so it is unclear what Tansley and his contemporaries understood it to mean. Did he mean simply that the abiotic and biotic were to be considered together as a unit unlike the more biologically focused concepts of community and biome? Or did he mean a more process-based approach, as in the physics of coupled systems of partial differential equations (i.e., coupled processes)? If the latter, how was this to be accomplished with no governing equations, such as the Navier–Stokes equations based on the conservation of three basic qualities – mass, energy, and momentum? Whatever Tansley meant initially, the ecosystem concept was subsequently used both as a classification of communities, biomes, and their habitat in terms of environmental factors and as nutrient cycles and energy flows through food webs (McIntosh, 1985). Thus, we are left with an incomplete understanding of how the environment is to be connected as a “system” to organisms, populations, communities, and ecosystems.

Recent decades have seen several advances that are contributing to the beginning of this synthesis (e.g., Nealson and Ghiorse, 2001; Hedin et al., 2002). One of the most interesting developments in ecology has been the Metabolic Theory of Ecology (MTE). This theory (West et al., 1997; 1999; Brown et al., 2004; Enquist et al., 2003; 2007) argues that mass conservation, biological mechanics, hydraulics, heat budgets, and thermodynamics can be used to explain the flux of energy, water, and nutrients from cells to ecosystems. This, in turn, explains the empirical scaling evidence for B = BoM3/4 where B is an organism's metabolic rate, Bo is a normalization constant independent of an organism's mass, and M is an organism's mass (West et al., 1997).

Recommend this book

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.

A Biogeoscience Approach to Ecosystems
  • Online ISBN: 9781107110632
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107110632
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to *
×
Beven, K. J. and Kirkby, M. J. (1979). A physically based, variable contributing area model of basin hydrology. Hydrological Sciences Bulletin, 24(1), 43–69, doi:10.1080/02626667909491834.
Brown, J. H., Gillooly, J. F., Allen, A. P., Savage, V. M. and West, G. B. (2004). Toward a metabolic theory of ecology. Ecology, 85, 1771–89.
Eagleson, P. S. (2002). Ecohydrology: Darwinian Expression of Vegetation Form and Function. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Enquist, B. J., Brown, J. H. and West, G. B. (1998). Allometric scaling of plant energetics and population dynamics. Nature, 395, 163–5, doi:10.1038/25977.
Enquist, B. J., Economo, E. P., Huxman, T. E. et al. (2003). Scaling metabolism from organisms to ecosystems. Nature, 423, 639–42.
Enquist, B. J., Kerkhoff, A. J., Stark, S. C. et al. (2007). A general integrative model for scaling plant growth, carbon flux, and functional trait spectra. Nature, 449, 218–22.
Frost, P. C., Cross, W. F. and Benstead, J. P. (2005). Ecological stoichiometry in freshwater benthic ecosystems: an introduction. Freshwater Biology, 50(11), 1781–5.
Hedin, L., Chadwick, O., Schimel, J. and Torn, M. (2002). Linking Ecological Biology and Geoscience. Report to the National Science Foundation 4 April. Workshop at Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America August 2001, Madison, WI.
Henderson, L. J. (1913). The Fitness of the Environment: An Inquiry into the Biological Significance of the Properties of Matter. New York: The MacMillan Co.
Martin, Y. and Church, M. (2004). Numerical modelling of landscape evolution: geomorphological perspectives. Progress in Physical Geography, 28(3), 317–39, doi:10.1191/0309133304pp412ra.
McIntosh, R. P. (1985). The Background of Ecology: Concept and Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nealson, K. and Ghiorse, W. (2001). Geobiology. Exploring the Interface between the Biosphere and the Geosphere. A report from the American Academy of Microbiology. Available at http://academy.asm.org/images/stories/documents/12.GeobiologyReport.pdf.
Paola, C. and Voller, V. R. (2005). A generalized Exner equation for sediment mass balance. Journal of Geophysical Research, 110, F04014, doi:10.1029/2004JF000274.
Rodriguez-Iturbe, I. (2000). Ecohydrology: a hydrologic perspective of climate-soil-vegetation dynamics. Water Resources Research, 36, 3–9.
Savage, V. M., Gillooly, J. F., Brown, J. H., West, G. B. and Charnov, E. L. (2004). Effects of body size and temperature on population growth. The American Naturalist, 163(3), doi:10.1086/381872.
Sterner, R. W. and Elser, J. J. (2002). Ecological Stoichiometry: The Biology of Elements from Molecules to the Biosphere. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Tansley, A. G. (1935). The use and abuse of vegetation concepts and terms. Ecology, 16(3), 284–30.
West, G. B., Brown, J. H. and Enquist, B. J. (1997). A general model for the origin of allometric scaling laws in biology. Science, 276, 122–6.
West, G. B., Brown, J. H. and Enquist, B. J. (1999). A general model for the structure and allometry of plant vascular systems. Nature, 400, 664–7.