Mesocosms are artificially constructed model ecosystems used for experimental study of analogous natural ecosystems. The advantages of mesocosms are that they provide control over multiparameter variability that often confounds experiments with natural systems. They also allow controlled testing of toxins that cannot be released into nature, and nutrients that can profoundly disturb ecosystems. Mesocosms come to mimic natural ecosystem structure and function through ecological engineering design. For this application of the field, ecological engineering includes the aspects of both ecology and engineering that are required for the creation and operation of a successful mesocosm, or, in other words, a mesocosm whose model ecosystem behaves like its natural analog ecosystem over time. Because it represents a whole ecosystem, the veracity of a mesocosm model must be tested with both physical/chemical and ecological parameters. For example, in the design of a small coral reef mesocosm comparisons were made for (1) physical/ chemical parameters such as temperature, pH, and nutrient concentrations; (2) calcification rates of the whole system and for selected species; and (3) biodiversity of the system in terms of taxonomy of species and families.
Some conventional engineering is required in meso-cosm design because the systems are artificially constructed with a containment structure composed of materials such as cement, metals, or plastics, along with mechanical and electrical components. Some conventional ecology is also required because an actual ecosystem composed of rocks, soils, water, air, and living organisms must be developed within the mesocosm structure. The critical aspect of ecological engineering of mesocosms is the design and management of interactions between the engineering components and the ecological components (Figure 1). Ideally, the engineering components should only have a positive effect (+) or no effect (0) on the ecology of the system and vice versa. Table 1 lists some kinds of interactions that occur in a typical
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