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The dual nature of ecosystem dynamics

Robert E. Ulanowicz

Ecological Modelling, 2009, vol. 220, issue 16, 1886-1892

Abstract: Mechanistic simulation modeling has not generally delivered on its promise to turn ecology into more of a “hard” science. Rather, it appears that deeper insights into ecosystem functioning may derive from a new set of metaphysical assumptions about how nature functions. Force laws from physics are fundamentally incompatible with the heterogeneity and uniqueness that characterizes ecosystems. Instead, coherence, selection and centripetality are imparted to ecological systems by concatenations of beneficial processes—a generalized form of autocatalysis. These structure-enhancing configurations of processes are opposed by the ineluctable tendency of structure to decay (as required by the second law of thermodynamics). The dual nature of this agonism can be quantified using information theory, which also can be used to measure the potential of the system for further evolution. The balance point for these countervailing tendencies seems to coincide with the state of maximal potential for the system to evolve. In an ostensible paradox, the same locus seems to attract stable, persistent system configurations.

Keywords: Ascendency; Autocatalysis; Centripetality; Dialectic; Ecosystems; Metaphysics (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2009
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