Evaluation of information indices as indicators of environmental stress in terrestrial soils

M.A. Tobor-Kaplon, R. Holtkamp, U.M. Scharler, A. Doroszuk, F.J.A. Kuenen, J. Bloem, P.C. de Ruiter

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Information indices from Ecosystem Network Analysis (ENA) can be used to quantify the development of an ecosystem in terms of its size and organization. There are two types of indices, i.e. absolute indices that describe both the size and organization of ecosystem (Total System Throughput (TST)¿system size, Ascendancy (A)¿size of organized flows and Development Capacity (C)¿upper limit for A, Overhead (L)¿size of unorganized flows) and relative indices that describe only the organization (Average Mutual Information (AMI = A:TST), Flow Diversity (H = C:TST), Relative Overhead (RL = L:TST)). It is theorized that environmental stress impair the ecosystem development and that the effect of stress can be quantified with the ENA information indices. Here we applied ENA on a case of environmental stress in a terrestrial ecosystem, i.e. soils that have endured long-term exposure to elevated copper concentration and altered pH. The absolute indices showed an unexpected pattern of response to pollution, suggesting that ecosystems in polluted soils are more active and better organized than these in unpolluted soils. The relative indices, alternatively, responded to pollution as predicted by theory, i.e. with decrease of stress (pollution level) the level of specialization increased (increase of AMI) and losses of energy, e.g. due to respiration, decreased (decrease of Overhead). The diversity and evenness of flows showed hump-backed relationship with stress. Less polluted soils appeared to be less vulnerable to external disturbances and more efficient in processing energy (higher Relative Ascendancy (RA = A:C)) than polluted soils. The relative information indices were rigid to changes in values of assumed parameters. The relative indices, opposite to absolute indices, appeared to be useful as indicators of environmental stress on the ecosystem level.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-90
JournalEcological Modelling
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • ecological network analysis
  • fresh-water inflow
  • microbial communities
  • ecosystem attributes
  • functional stability
  • tolerant grass
  • river estuary
  • copper
  • zinc
  • food


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