From the Ecosystem Concept to the Landscape Historical and Scientific Motives

Since the English ecologist Sir Arthur Tansley introduced the paradigm of the ecosystem at the beginning of the past century, ecology has been projected into the human realm.

The evolution of ecological thinking has not always been easy and is presently quite incomplete as well described by Frank Golley in "A History of the Ecosystem Concept in Ecology" (Golley 1993).

A significant role in the development of the ecosystem concept was played by Raymond Laurel Lindeman with his innovative and inspirational work in the PhD thesis titled "Cedar Bog Lake: The Ecosystem or the Trophic Dynamic-Viewpoint in Ecology."

For more than 50 years the ecosystem paradigm has been at the center of ecological thinking connecting the nonbiotic world (matter, energy, and statistical and physical information) with the biological world (living processes) as well emphasized for instance by Oward Odum in "System Ecology" (Odum 1983) and Ramon Margalef in "Our Biosphere" (Margalef 1997).

In the past 50 years technology has provided humanity with new tools able to manipulate energy and grant the ability to access unexploited resources, but this fact has reduced the scalar interaction between humanity and nature. For instance, the significant use of fossil and nuclear energy is producing climatic changes on a global scale and economic crisis.

Following this critical condition social discomfort is felt either by the population of the richest countries due to a life style based on profit or by the poor countries contaminated by un-sustainable societal and economic processes. Natural disasters and economic crises seem to result from the same process. In vain ecology has tried to inform and alert decision makers and central governments of the risk of dramatic instability in ecosystems and human societies embedded in a self-organizing complexity.

Since Ludwig von Bertalanffy published the controversial book "General System Theory" in 1969 (von Bertalanffy 1969) in which new ideas were proposed about the functioning of systems, the paradigm of complexity appears as a bulwark for a modern ecology not fully aware of the necessity to reduce entropy in human development (Levin 1999).

Two distinct trends can be observed in ecology today. The first is represented by research working in the direction of behavior of molecular entities. The second considers macro processes and their emergent properties (Morowitz 2002), embedded in a foggy context often branded as vitalism in which emerges the chaotic nature of several phenomena (Kauffman 1993, Prigogine 1993, Cushing et al. 2003).

After the emergence of the paradigm of complexity and the possibilities of its application to the biological realm ecology entered a new phase. Contemporarily this idea is accompanied by an emergent paradigm of spatial ecology, called landscape ecology, which creates an explicit context in which ecosystems and their associated complexity interact (Turner 2005).

In a few decennia landscape ecology has grown in importance and scientific reputation (Naveh 2000, Farina 2006) thanks to the contribution of ecologists, geographers, architects, agronomists, environmental psychologists, and anthropologists pooled by the common necessity to create a context for natural and human processes (Nassauer 1997, Ingold 2000, Wu and Hobbs 2007, Forman 2008).

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