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Ecosystems emerging: 1. conservation

Ecological Modelling
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0304-3800(96)00069-5
  • Conservation
  • Cosmology
  • Ecosphere
  • Energy
  • Information
  • Matter
  • State Space
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • Medicine
  • Physics


Abstract This second paper in the series on Ecosystems Emerging treats some properties of ecosystems derivable from the single elementary principle of conservation. These go beyond the mere balancing out of the matter and forces of nature. A brief sketch of a conservationless world is given, followed by an elementary background review of energy, matter and information. The main conservative quantities are matter, energy, momentum and electric charge. The difference between sun and earth surface temperatures is the source of useful energy (exergy) and information to motivate matter. The earth acts as a photon multiplier in this process, and generates entropy radiated to the universe at large. Neither exergy, information, nor photons are conservative quantities. Four phases of matter are recognized: solid, liquid, gaseous and living. These contribute to five realms of the earth's ecosphere: lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrophere, biosphere and noosphere. An additional category, the semiosphere, represents informational aspects of the materialistic ecosphere. Information is related to Aristotle's four causes: formal, material, efficient and final. Information has a material basis; its physical carriers are conservative markers, or avatars. Information is always produced by bonding of masses to form higher-level systems; the energy to achieve bonding is released in degraded form (heat) and carried away by low-energy photons in entropy production. All systems owe their cohesion to bonding (interaction). System bonding may be by conservative substance exchange (transactions) or nonconservative information exchange (relations). In both cases, identity constraints of coupling mediate the bonds. A universal metamodel for system change is described under state-space determinism. Exogenous conditions (inputs), and endogenous conditions (states) are lawfully mapped into behavioral dynamics (outputs). There are two fundamentally different kinds of state-space systems: objects (nonliving, which respond reactively to physical inputs); and subjects (living, which can respond proactively based on phenomenal inputs, which are models of physical inputs). The ability to make models is conjectured as a new definition of life. In living processes, elements of the materialistic ecosphere and informational semiosphere are combined to produce the phenomenal noosphere. All three categories are mutually implicative. Arguments are made to consider space as locally conserved and time as conserved. The nature of transactional (materialistic) and relational (informational) bonding in the origin of systems, under state-space determinism, is described. The conservation principle underlies this because transactions are always the prior basis of relations. Environments arise under the same considerations as origin of systems; conservation is at the root. Input environment, output environment and indirect environment are described as elements of a general concept of environment. Indirect environments are bounded by the speed of light, and (closer in) by the boundaries of defined systems. The within-system portions of component-level environments are environs. Energy balance and photon multiplication in the ecosphere are described as a series of electromagnetic cascades. Charge-discharge cycles of energy and matter are mechanisms for progressively degrading solar photons to heat in coupled solar → trophic → biochemical interactions at different scales of hierarchical organization. The conservation principle underlies all these processes. A review of the broad phenomena, concepts and principles of ecology reveals that many of these have strong dependence on conservation of mass, energy, momentum and electric charge, as well as local space and time. Just as conservation laws are basic in the organization of reality, they are also rightly reflected in much of the subject matter of ecology.

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