Role of Abiotic Components

Although the importance of abiotic ecosystem components is commonly recognized, most of the ecological studies (including those addressing the indirect effects) tend to study in detail only relationships among biota. The restriction of the integrative synthesis to species interaction only cuts off a plethora of useful environmental studies related, for example, to issues of global climate change. It should be noted, however, that the science of ecosystem dynamics is highly interdisciplinary, and the information relevant to the present discussion can, therefore, be found not only in ecology and biology, but also virtually in any section of natural and environmental sciences, with geography, palaeontology, geoecology, and climatology comprising the most obvious candidates.

In ecology, it is widely recognized that species interaction can be mediated by a nonliving resource, and that a species can potentially exert a selective force on another species through nontrophic interactions. It should also be noted that in nature many species are very well adapted to modify their community and habitat (e.g., beavers by changing the habitat's hydrological regime, humans by initiating dramatic changes in global climate and geo-chemical fluxes, earthworms by increasing aeration and redistributing organic matter in soil, etc.). Changes in physical characteristics of a habitat caused by the activity of so-called 'ecosystem engineers' may be regarded as an extreme case of such nontrophic interactions. Often, however, even if abiotic components are considered in terms of detrital pathways and/or nutrient cycling, the effects studied in detail are mostly confined to trophic interactions only. Furthermore, many indirect interactions occur between different stages of ecosystem development and are therefore easily overlooked and understudied. In ecological literature these interactions are sometimes called 'historical effects', 'priority effects', or 'indirect delayed regulations'. Consideration of these effects is particularly important for the correct understanding of an overall ecosystem functioning. Hence, if one abstracts from the labels given to different branches of science, the importance of abiotic ecosystem components and physical environment for ecosystem dynamics and evolutionary development becomes increasingly obvious.

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