Ecosystem ecology deals with the functioning at the system level of the ecological community with its abiotic environment, primarily in terms of the energy flow and nutrient cycling. Research in ecosystem ecology has given us a much better understanding of the processes and functions necessary to sustain life. The work in natural sciences has outpaced the ability of the social institutions to adapt and implement this knowledge. However, there is reason to be optimistic because the recent focus on the ecosystem approach in major international efforts recognizes that humans, with their cultural diversity, are an integral component of ecosystems.

Table 5 A few of the trends identified in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

50% of all the synthetic nitrogen fertilizer ever used has been used since 1985

60% of the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since

1750 has taken place since 1959 Approximately 60% of the ecosystem services evaluated are being degraded or used unsustainably

20% of the world's coral reefs were lost and 20% degraded in the last several decades 35% of mangrove area has been lost in the last several decades Withdrawals from rivers and lakes doubled since 1960

Table 6 Ecosystem Approach principles of the Convention on Biological Diversity

1 The objectives of land, water, and living resource management are a matter of societal choices

2 Management should be decentralized to the lowest appropriate level

3 Ecosystem managers should consider the effects (actual or potential) of their activities on adjacent and other ecosystems

4 Recognizing potential gains from management, there is usually a need to understand and manage the ecosystem in an economic context. Any such ecosystem-management program should

(a) reduce those market distortions that adversely affect biological diversity;

(b) align incentives to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable use; and

(c) internalize costs and benefits in the given ecosystem to the extent feasible

5 Conservation of ecosystem structure and functioning, in order to maintain ecosystem services, should be a priority target of the ecosystem approach

6 Ecosystem must be managed within the limits of their functioning

7 The ecosystem approach should be undertaken at the appropriate spatial and temporal scales

8 Recognizing the varying temporal scales and lag-effects that characterize ecosystem processes, objectives for ecosystem management should be set for the long term

9 Management must recognize the change is inevitable

10 The ecosystem approach should seek the appropriate balance between, and integration of, conservation and use of biological diversity

11 The ecosystem approach should consider all forms of relevant information, including scientific and indigenous and local knowledge, innovations, and practices.

12 The ecosystem approach should involve all relevant sectors of society and scientific disciplines

The 12 principles mentioned above are complementary and interlinked.

See also: Adaptive Cycle; Adaptive Management and Integrative assessments; Anthropospheric and Anthropogenic Impact on the Biosphere; Carbon Cycle; Ecological Network Analysis, Environ Analysis; Ecosystem Services; Ecosystems; Energy Balance; Goal Functions and Orientors; Matter and Matter Flows in the Biosphere; Nitrogen Cycle; Panarchy; Phosphorus Cycle; Systems Ecology.

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