How Emergence Emerges

The concept of emergent properties refers very clearly to, and must be seen in tight connection with, at least two other

Table 1 Some ecosystem orientors

Immature state

Properties of the dominating species

Rapid growth


Quantitative growth

Small size

Short life spans

Broad niches

Properties of production Small biomass High P/B ration Low respiration Small gross production

Properties of nutrient flows and cycles Simple, rapid, and leaky Small storage Extrabiotic

Small amounts of detritus Rapid nutrient exchange Short residence times Minor chemical heterogeneity Loose network articulation Low diversity of flows Undeveloped symbiosis

Properties of the community Low diversity Poor feedback control Poor spatial patterns

Thermodynamic and integrative system properties

Poor hierarchical structure

Close to equilibrium

Low exergy storage

Small total entropy production

High specific entropy production

Small level of information

Small internal redundancy

Small path lengths

Low ascendency

Poor indirect effects

Small respiration and evapo-transpiration Small energy demand for maintenance

Mature state

Slow growth K-selection

Qualitative development Large size Long life spans Narrow niches

Large biomass Low P/B ratio High respiration Medium gross production

Complex, slow, and closed cycles Large storage

Intrabiotic nutrient distribution scheme

Large amounts of detritus

Slow nutrient exchange

Long residence times

High chemical heterogeneity

High network articulation

High diversity of flows

Developed symbiosis

High diversity

Developed feedback control Developed spatial patterns

Developed hierarchical structure

Far from equilibrium

High exergy storage

High total entropy production

Small specific entropy production

High level of information

High internal redundancy

High path lengths

High ascendency

Developed indirect effects

High respiration and evapo-transpiration

High energy demand for maintenance

The features, that are optimized throughout natural successions, provide several characteristics of emergent properties: They are only observable at the ecosystem level (which is the typical and the lowest logical level to describe, e.g., cycling phenomena), and they are based on self-organized processes. They can not be explained on the basis of knowledge of the parts alone, and the emergence-creating processual linkages between the sub systems are non-linear processes. From the hierarchy-based viewpoint also the additive features (e.g. size, biomass, life spans) can be categorized as emergent properties because their extensions are dependent on the scale of observation and because they also are based on internal system interrelations.

concepts often occurring in literature on modern ecosystem theory, the concepts of hierarchy and self-organization. In connection with hierarchy, the emergent properties are seen as outcomes of ecosystem organization where supersystems are formed with subsystems as constituents and where the properties are observable at the supersystem level only. Here the emergent property is an outcome of a certain way of organization. To exemplify this point, we might look at the following hierarchical features:

1. Individual level: individual nutrition budgets - foraging strategies.

2. Population level: species nutrition efficiencies - intras-pecific food competition.

3. Ecosystem level: nutrient cycling - food webs.

4. Landscape level: lateral nutrient transfers - food webs including large scale predators.

On the other hand, the ability of biological systems to arrange themselves in a special manner, for example, in a hierarchical way, is in itself a property which emerges as a consequence of the properties of its constituents, but the organization and the function for sure cannot always be foreseen. Thus, the capability of self-organization can be seen as an emergent property itself (Figure 1).

The existence of emergent properties is based on the system's organization (built up by structures and functions) whereby the interrelations (energy, matter, water and information flows, communications) play an important role. Some conditions of the system's state add up to the increased chances that emergent properties will appear. For example, instabilities seem to be important conditions that support emerging processes, especially referring to evolutionary emergence. Stable periods may lead to the emergence of new structures through bifurcations. As systems move toward the state of minimum dissipation they are, at the same time, moving toward

Inter-level relation

Inter-level relation

Figure 1 Biological entities are often organized in a hierarchical manner, whereby the emergent properties of a certain level are based on the interrelations between the lower levels, while both are constrained from the highest level linkages.

bifurcation points with possibilities of further evolution to occur. Similarly broken symmetries, complementarity has been proposed as a global mechanism.

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