Persistence and Stability in Ecosystems

One of the most puzzling topics in systems ecology is how ecosystems emerge that are at once complex and stable. Field studies suggest that the most complex (diverse) ecosystems are also the most stable. However, this observation runs counter to expectation from systems theory. It shows that the more components a dynamic system has, the more likely it is that a destabilizing interaction (such as a positive feedback loop) will cause it to collapse and lose species. Consequently, systems theory suggests that simpler ecosystems should be more stable than complex ones. The paradox implies that the complex, stable ecosystems seen in nature are not random assemblages. Self-organization in this case involves removal of destabilizing positive feedback loops.

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