Conservation and the Cognitive Landscape

The "cognitive" landscape as a whole may be interpreted as the sum of the different eco-fields of all species. In this case, however, we enter into the domain of description, yet the cognitive landscape is too compacted into a neutral vision to make this possible. Measuring the eco-field for most functional traits is difficult because we usually ignore the range of a single trait, and consequently, lose the metric to be applied. According to the eco-field paradigm, it is nevertheless possible to attempt the separation of the different functional traits using simplified models. This is an important operational procedure used to compare the most important functions of a species and the description of its optimum spatio-temporal distribution which follows those functional traits with the real condition met in a selected area at a given time. It is impossible to know, in advance, which degrees of interaction and priority are associated with the functions selected for the study of a species. However, our approach allows the construction of testable models because we assume that different perspectives may potentially be equally useful for representing the eco-field. The application of the model will provide the results necessary to reconstruct the priorities and the quality of each eco-field in order to predict where a species may have the optima of distribution (see Mitchell and Powell 2002).

This has extraordinary potential for the conservation of species but it is necessary to develop a strict linkage between the genetic variability of a species and the local conditions. The eco-field allows one to investigate habitat suitability for simple functions that we assume are important for the maintenance of a stable population. For instance, the nesting eco-field for a barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) is represented by available natural or artificial walls, orientation, height, etc. Let us assume that it is possible to determine the optimal distribution of these functions for swallows. Then it could be possible also to measure the potential nesting-sites in neighboring areas. In a similar way, by counting the composition and abundance of aeroplankton around the nesting places, it could be possible to evaluate the status of a "foraging" eco-field. Following this procedure as a function of time and of the functional traits of the swallow, we can assess the habitat suitability.

The eco-field paradigm could help us to understand how phenotypic plasticity (see also Sultan 2000), is maintained in a population using a combination of values (ranging from completely unsuitable to optimal) of all the eco-fields that an individual of the population has gone through in its life. This procedure has important evolutionary implications because the environmental pressure on the genome of individuals reflects the single eco-field conditions. The genetic variability of a species is determined by different constraints that select the genome better adapted to those conditions. The number of conditions is very large, and the number of possible combinations is even greater. For instance, quality modulation in the "mating" eco-field will influence the density of the future population, but will also influence the foraging eco-field.

Practical issues are raised by conservation strategies aimed at maintaining the integrity of genome potentiality. For instance, in order to maintain the population of Rupicapra rupicapra ornata in Abruzzi National Park (Italy), which is an isolated population, would it be better to maintain a high level of habitat quality or would it be better to allow subpopulations to live in suboptimal habitats (estimated on the basis of a demographic model)? What is the effect of the "source-sink" habitat for the maintenance of genetic diversity? It could be of great interest to study the genome variability of subpopulations with different eco-field suitabilities in order to understand what portion of genomic variability is affected by different eco-field qualities.

The eco-field explains very well the complex domain of species life composed of semiotic relationships and contemporarily by genetic adaptation to different conditions. We believe that most genetic variability is produced by external stressors, but this is true only in part. Internal mechanisms that change the rank of importance of the different vital functions operate throughout the eco-field. The phase space is a human representation of a probabilistic range in which the different functional traits operate. Memory, the past history or past sequence of events, is responsible for the present choices. Finally, the eco-field is not a passive representation of reality, but it is an autopoietic process in which an individual is strictly linked with the environment that changes and by which it is modified. We ignore how the different eco-fields rank, but it is probable that some functions are essential and others are additional. If you are very rich, you can perform more things than if you are very poor. The essential functions, such as feeding, drinking, or sleeping, are not very different, but others such as recreation (tourism, concerts, readings) are completely different.

In autopoietic theory, Maturana and Varela only consider the autopoiesis inside an organism, and call all other mechanisms heteropoietic. But see also the point of Zeleny (1996). I consider the recognition of the eco-field essential to autopoiesis and consequently as an integral part of individual autopoiesis. Without the coupling of the eco-field with autopoiesis, this last essential property of the living organisms doesn't exist.

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