Ecosystems

, Volume 1, Issue 5, pp 431-436

Ecosystems and the Biosphere as Complex Adaptive Systems

  • Simon A.  LevinAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544-1003, USA

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ABSTRACT

Ecosystems are prototypical examples of complex adaptive systems, in which patterns at higher levels emerge from localized interactions and selection processes acting at lower levels. An essential aspect of such systems is nonlinearity, leading to historical dependency and multiple possible outcomes of dynamics. Given this, it is essential to determine the degree to which system features are determined by environmental conditions, and the degree to which they are the result of self-organization. Furthermore, given the multiple levels at which dynamics become apparent and at which selection can act, central issues relate to how evolution shapes ecosystems properties, and whether ecosystems become buffered to changes (more resilient) over their ecological and evolutionary development or proceed to critical states and the edge of chaos.

Key words: Gaia; self-organization; complex adaptive system; homeostasis; nonlinearity; keystone species; functional group.