Ecosystems are constantly changing, not only over space but also in time. The understanding of spatial and temporal processes and their interrelations is central to the understanding of the complex behavior of real ecosystems. Relevant processes might span over several temporal and spatial scales. Therefore, tools for modeling such processes should also be able to operate on diverse spatial and temporal scales.
The issues of ecological modeling are involved at various scales. At each scale, a set of spatially explicit indicators needs to be identified to characterize the extent, pressures, condition, trends, and scenarios of ecosystem types and land-use patterns as well as the underlying structural features of ecosystems. For any size patch of the Earth's surface that we choose to define as an ecosystem, there will be a set of factors external to the ecosystem that influence how it functions and, in turn, there will be flows of material and energy that extend beyond the ecosystem. The larger the scale, the more inclusive it is of these flows of material and energy. However, studies undertaken at larger scales lose the site specificity that policymakers often need. In other words, there is no single scale at which we can obtain a full understanding of ecosystems.
Scale issue is an inherent part of ecology. While in the early 1950s to the early 1970s, many ecologists tried to incorporate scale in environmental biology in the early 1970s to the 1980s, many ecologists focused increasing attention on the problem of spatial scale. In the 1990s, scale problem became the central problem in ecology, for unifying population biology and ecosystem science, and marrying basic ecology and applied ecology.
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