Ecosystem Studies

The ecosystem perspective achieved footing in the ecological academic community since it was central to E. P. Odum's seminal textbook Fundamentals of Ecology first published in 1953. An early implementation of this approach at the institutional scale was attempted was in the International Biological Program (IBP), which was run from 1964 to 1974. The program had many successes in assessing and surveying the Earth's ecosystems, but faced the difficulty of compelling a top-down, holistic research paradigm on individual scientific endeavors. As a result of this conflict, the program did not deliver as much as had been hoped, but set the stage for the next generation of ecosystem-scale research. One feature of the IBP that did continue was the use of computer simulation modeling as a tool to understand the complex ecological interrelations. The journal Ecological Modelling and Systems Ecology started in 1975 continues as an active repository for mathematical and computer-based ecosystem research.

Subsequent to the IBP, the US National Science Foundation officially established the Long-Term Ecological Research Sites (LTER) in 1980 but research at several of the sites dates much earlier. Currently, there are 26 such sites ranging from the Coweeta Hydrological Lab in North Carolina, Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study in New Hampshire, Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, to the Baltimore Urban Ecosystem Study. These projects rely on a vast team of scientists to study the many interactions at this spatial scale. Still, the difficulty lies in putting together all the pieces into an integrated whole picture of the ecosystem.

Smaller-scale, individual-led ecological research is commonly conducted using microcosm and mesocosm experiments. A mesocosm experiment uses designed

Table 4 Percentage atomic composition of the biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere for first 10 elements

Biosphere Hydrosphere Atmosphere Lithosphere

Table 4 Percentage atomic composition of the biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere for first 10 elements

Biosphere Hydrosphere Atmosphere Lithosphere

H

49.8

H

65.4

N

78.3

O

62.5

O

24.9

O

33.0

O

21.0

Si

21.22

C

24.9

Cl

0.33

Ar

0.93

Al

6.47

N

0.073

Na

0.28

C

0.03

H

2.92

Ca

0.046

Mg

0.03

Ne

0.002

Na

2.64

K

0.033

S

0.02

Ca

1.94

Si

0.031

Ca

0.006

Fe

1.92

Mg

0.030

K

0.006

Mg

1.84

P

0.017

C

0.002

K

1.42

equipment or enclosures in which environmental factors can be controlled and manipulated to approximate natural conditions. The prevalence of this approach created a wealth of small-scale experimentation but at the expense of larger observational studies, which sparked a fierce debate in the 1990s between the 'field' versus 'bottle' approach. Indeed, the usefulness of microcosm experiments for ecosystem ecology was brought into question, but the resolution has been that a multiplicity of approaches is useful to address ecological questions.

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