The Operational Imperative

Successful enclosed ecosystem operation requires the monitoring of a large number of physical and chemical factors. To a large extent, this can be automated with electronic sensors, and the data can be logged and the system computer controlled. Some chemical parameters require wet chemistry, though a once-a-week analysis is usually sufficient in a well-run system. Like any piece of complex laboratory equipment (a scanning electron microscope, for example) a dedicated and highly trained technician is needed to manage the monitoring equipment, though in a well-tuned system, considerable time can be available for other duties.

An operational feature that is rarely discussed, and in practice is mostly anecdotal is that of population instability. A mesocosm, in effect, is a few-square-meter patch of a larger ecosystem. In the wild, ecosystem patches of a few square meters can be subject to considerable short-term variability, though stability is achieved to some extent by the smoothing effect of the larger ecosystem that may be measured in square kilometers.

Microcosms and mesocosms require an ecologist, fully acquainted with 'normal' community structure ofthe 'wildtype' system. Effectively, that ecologist/operator performs as the highest, and most omnivorous, predator. In the cases of algal or insect 'explosions' the operator's function is obvious, a once-a-week cropping or 'grazing' (i.e., hand harvest) until the explosion tendency subsides. In other cases, the short-term introduction of predator to carry out the limited cropping or grazing role can be quite successful. These 'managed predators' can be kept in a refugium unit where they are readily available for such service.

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