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5 - 5 HOW DO ECOLOGISTS LEARN ABOUT ECOSYSTEMS?

Field research -(muddy boots biology) involves going into nature and observing and measuring the structure and interactions of ecosystems. But, even simple systems are so complex this is expensive, time-consuming and difficult to get information. It can be difficult to set up controlled experiments where only one variable is varied.

Laboratory research - supplements field research by the setting up, observing and measuring of model ecosystems and populations under laboratory conditions.

Variables (light, temperature, CO2, humidity) can be controlled, and the experiments are quicker and cheaper.

Laboratory research has led to enormous amounts of information. It can isolate cause and effect relationships that can be further tested in the field. Computer simulations can help project outcomes that would take too long to rest in the field.

But do what scientists observe under laboratory conditions take place in the same way in the more complex and dynamic conditions found in nature? The results of laboratory research must be coupled and supported wifh field research.

Systems analysis - can help understand large and complex systems (river, ocean, forest, grassland, city) that cannot be studied otherwise. They involve inputs, accumulations, flows (throughputs), outputs, coupled feedback loops and time delays.

The major states of systems analysis to find out how to improve water quality in a severely polluted stream:

The major states of systems analysis to find out how to improve water quality in a severely polluted stream:

Systems measurement - state the physical and chemical characteristics, and biological characteristics desired in the stream. Use tield research to inventory the existing conditions. Identify the major influences on the stream (watershed, geologic formations, weather, land-use nutrients and toxic pollutants entering). This could take 5-10 scientists several years.

Data analysis - use computers and statistics to discover relationships among variables and determine how the conditions of the stream are effected by the major influences.

Systems modeling - create a set of mathematical equations representing the major mteracting factors. Test the model by running it on a computer.

Systems simulation - evaluate ways to improve the stream quality by making computer runs of the model in which one or more variables are modified (What might happen if we do so and so?).

Systems optimization - add economic data for various solutions and use computer runs to determine alternatives that improve quality at minimum cost to develop an economically and politically acceptable plan.

5 - 6 SUSTAINABILITY AND ECOSYSTEM SERVICES

What Are the Two Basic Principles of Ecosystem Sustainability?

By using renewable solar energy as their energy source. By recycling reasonably efficiently the nutrients their organisms need for survival, growth, and reproduction.

These two processes are common to all ecosystems.

Why Are Ecosystem Services so Important?

We may feel isolated from nature in our artificial environments, but none of us lives apart from nature. We depend on nature for food, air, water and everything we use. Ecosystems provide us with natural services (earth capital) that support life, contribute to the quality of human life and the world's economies:

  • help control and moderate climate.
  • provide and renew air, water, and soil.
  • recycle vital nutrients through chemical recycling.
  • provide renewable and nonrenewable energy sources, and nonrenewable minerals.
  • furnish food, fiber, medicines, timber, and paper.
  • pollinate crops and other plant species.
  • absorb, dilute, or detoxify many pollutants and toxic chemicals.
  • help control populations of pests and disease organisms.
  • slow soil erosion and help prevent flooding.
  • provide biodiversity of genes and species needed to adapt to ever-changing environmental conditions through evolution and genetic engineering.
  • These services are provided free of charge, but many people are unaware or take them for granted until they are degraded or destroyed. According to biologist John Cairns Jr.

    Ecosystem services are as important to the survival of present human society as technological services.

    Replacing the services provided by natural ecosystems with comparable services provided by technological systems will be at least an order of magnitude more expensive.

    Sustainable use of the planet is impossible without ecosystem services.

    The quantity of ecosystem services per capita can be increased through ecological restoration of damaged ecosystems.

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