Introduction

John C. Moore, Peter C. de Ruiter, Kevin S. McCann, Volkmar Wolters

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscriptAcademic

5 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Many systems being studied today are dynamic, large and complex: traffic at an airport with 100 planes, slum areas with 10 4 persons or the human brain with 10 10 neuron(e)s. In such systems, stability is of central importance, for instability usually appears as a self-generating catastrophe. Unfortunately, present theoretical knowledge of stability in large systems is meager: the work described here was intended to add to it. Gardner and Ashby (1970) A variety of ecologically interesting interpretations can be, and have been, attached to the term “stability.” May (1973) Climate change, eutrophication, land-use practices, deforestation, intensification of agriculture, and harvesting from fisheries are changing ecosystems across the globe. The study of food webs provides a framework to address these environmental challenges. Food webs are descriptions of the trophic interactions among consumers and resources. The information contained within these descriptions includes aspects of ecosystem structure (i.e., species richness, network architecture), ecosystem function (i.e., primary production, decomposition, biogeochemical cycles), and dynamics (i.e., population and process rates and change, stability and persistence) that all ecosystems share. Understanding how food webs respond to natural and anthropogenic disturbances, be they gradual or abrupt, is important to our basic knowledge of systems, to the formulation of environmental policies, and the implementation of management practices. Ecologists have long understood the observed patterns in distribution of species and their biomass resulted in part from offsetting processes of births and death, immigration and emigration, competition for resources, production and predation, and basic energetic properties, and that they were in some way related to their stability or ability to persist (Elton, 1927; Lotka, 1956; Hutchison, 1959; Hairston et al., 1960; Paine, 1966). In the past 50 years, there have been several attempts to tie structural, functional, and dynamic aspects of ecosystems together in a unifying way. Two contemporary works: one from the community ecology perspective provided by MacArthur and Wilson (1967) – The Theory of Island Biogeography – and one from the ecosystem ecology perspective provided by Odum (1969) – “The strategy of ecosystem development” – summarized the thinking at that time. The Theory of Island Biogeography offered a fresh perspective that blended nearly a century of empirical data on the distribution of species across the globe collected by naturalists with mathematical representations of the processes of colonization and extinction to explain these observations.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdaptive Food Webs
Subtitle of host publicationStability and Transitions of Real and Model Ecosystems
PublisherCambridge University Press
Chapter1
Pages1-6
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)9781316871867
ISBN (Print)9781107182110
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017

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