Concluding remarks

A system's view of nature, replete with feedbacks, is a remarkably recent way of viewing the world. In European thought the dominant technological metaphor of many centuries was clockwork something that should run perfectly, without the need for feedback, once it had been set going. During the eighteenth century, especially in Britain, it became increasingly common to find ideas of 'checks and balances' and self regulation especially in political and economic theory (Mayr, 1986 Henry, 2002)....

Parasites and predators

Predators, and their prey, often feature very prominently in ecological studies. They are regularly the stars of television nature documentaries, which are (unfortunately) probably most people's main source of ecological knowledge. One of the most well-known serious 'popular' books on academic ecology is Paul Colinvaux's Why big fierce animals are rare (Colinvaux, 1980), which gives large predators pride of place in the title. Similarly, the most comprehensive single volume text book in ecology...

The entity approach

Cryptogamic Crust Ecological Importance

How do textbooks organize ecology In most cases as a hierarchy of entities I am indebted to Haila 1999b for the term 'entities' in this context . There appears to be a reasonable consensus about how to classify these ecological entities in a hierarchical manner going from genes through individuals, populations, Fig. 1.2 A biological soil crust cryptogamic soil in the Utah Desert, USA. Such crusts often have filamentous cyanobacteria as an important part of their structure, along with mosses and...

The problem of biodiversity

Nebela Collaris Sensu Lato

The diversity of nature, exemplified by Darwin's entangled bank, is so familiar from everyday experience that it is easy to accept it without much critical thought. We are so used to a multitude of species, and higher taxa, that it is difficult to appreciate the fundamental theoretical problems this diversity presents. Consider these data from a 15 X 15 cm quadrat I recorded at an altitude of 1,890 m in the Dolomites northern Italy . Within this very small area of ground in a coniferous forest...

Sources of free energy

The source of energy we are most familiar with in Earth-based ecology is photosynthesis, which is considered in Chapter 7. The other obvious source of energy for life as we know it on Earth are organic compounds, which would have been present on the early Earth, and may have been the first energy source for life on our planet. Organic compounds would have existed on Earth before life, indeed these chemicals are widely distributed in space for example interplanetary dust particles currently add...

Schrodinger entropy and free energy

In 1944 the physicist Erwin Schrodinger published a short book entitled What is life I have referred to the slightly amended 1948 edition for reasons which will become apparent. This book was influential in attracting many young physicists to biological problems in the mid-twentieth century Perutz, 1987 , and indeed Gould 1995 considered it amongst the 'most important books in 20th century biology', while Paul Davies 2005 has emphasized the irony that 'one of the most influential physics books...