This theory integrates and extends the above-mentioned initiatives, building on those contributions. As stated in the first chapter and carried throughout the book, the Ecosystem Theory presented here rests on seven basic principles we observe in ecosystems:
(1) Ecosystems have thermodynamic openness,
(2) Ecosystem have ontic openness,
(3) Ecosystem have directed development,
(4) Ecosystems have connectivity,
(5) Ecosystems have hierarchic organization,
(6) Ecosystems have complex dynamics: growth and development, and
(7) Ecosystems have complex dynamics: disturbance and decay.
Physical-chemical systems can usually be described by matter and energy relations, while biological systems in addition need to include information relations. Biological systems can be characterized using three growth forms: structural (biomass) growth, network growth, and information growth. The last two growth forms give biological systems, including ecosystems, possibilities to move further and further from thermo-dynamic equilibrium and explain also the arrow of evolution. The synergistic effect of networks gives ecosystems the possibility to utilize available resources better (see Chapter 5), and thereby move further away from equilibrium. Information can be copied at almost no energy cost (see Chapter 6) and the increased information yields better utilization of the available resources to move the system still further from equilibrium. The first growth form is conservation limited but the second two are not and are far from their possible limits, as discussed in Chapters 5 and 6.
It was demonstrated in Chapter 9 that the seven ecosystem properties presented in Chapters 2-8 can be applied to explain a number of ecosystem rules and observations.
It can be concluded that we do not have a complete theory (no scientific discipline has a complete theory), but one that is adequate to explain many of our observations. Chapter 10 shows that the theory can be applied to assess ecosystem indicators useful in environmental management.
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