, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 225–232 | Cite as

Biocomplexity in Coupled Natural–Human Systems: A Multidimensional Framework



As defined by Ascher, biocomplexity results from a “multiplicity of interconnected relationships and levels.” However, no integrative framework yet exists to facilitate the application of this concept to coupled human–natural systems. Indeed, the term “biocomplexity” is still used primarily as a creative and provocative metaphor. To help advance its utility, we present a framework that focuses on linkages among different disciplines that are often used in studies of coupled human–natural systems, including the ecological, physical, and socioeconomic sciences. The framework consists of three dimensions of complexity: spatial, organizational, and temporal. Spatial complexity increases as the focus changes from the type and number of the elements of spatial heterogeneity to an explicit configuration of the elements. Similarly, organizational complexity increases as the focus shifts from unconnected units to connectivity among functional units. Finally, temporal complexity increases as the current state of a system comes to rely more and more on past states, and therefore to reflect echoes, legacies, and evolving indirect effects of those states. This three-dimensional, conceptual volume of biocomplexity enables connections between models that derive from different disciplines to be drawn at an appropriate level of complexity for integration.


biocomplexity biodiversity heterogeneity history cross-disciplinary integration space time organization metaphor 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. T. A. Pickett
    • 1
  • M. L. Cadenasso
    • 1
  • J. M. Grove
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA
  2. 2.Northeastern Research StationUSDA Forest ServiceBurlingtonUSA

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