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Linking Community and Ecosystem Ecology (LINKECOL)
Average reader rating: 0  
by European Science Foundation Life Sciences

An ESF scientific programme

Population and community ecology and ecosystem ecology provide two different perspectives on ecological systems, their structure, their functioning, their dynamics and their evolution. While population and community ecology takes as its starting point the population and its interactions with other populations, ecosystem ecology is mainly concerned with the flows of matter and energy in the overall system composed of biological organisms and their abiotic environment.

However, populations and communities do not exist in isolation; they are parts of ecosystems, and, as such, they are subjected to constraints arising from ecosystem functioning, in particular energy dissipation and nutrient cycling. At the same time, ecosystems do not exist without their biological components; the latter impose their own constraints on ecosystem processes, as the disruptions generated by some biological invasions attest. And in the face of the growing threat of a massive loss of biological diversity, interest is increasing concerning the role of biodiversity in ecosystem processes.

This has created an urgent need to integrate the two subdisciplines and it is the principal aim of the LINKECOL programme to unify these different perspectives. Such integration is essential not only to advance our fundamental understanding of natural and managed ecosystems but also to provide answers to more applied questions such as the impacts of biodiversity loss or species invasions on ecosystem sustainability.

Scientific background
The need for integration of population/ community and ecosystem ecology

The vigorous growth in ecology from its origins in the early years of the 20th century has been accompanied by the creation of numerous subdisciplines. Although specialisation may be inevitable, it also creates problems because conceptual frameworks in different subdisciplines often diverge over time. This is nowhere more apparent than between two of the major subdisciplines of ecology: population and community ecology on the one hand and ecosystem ecology on the other. These two subdisciplines have grown largely independently, each having its own concepts, theories and methodologies. Population and community ecology is mainly concerned with the dynamics, evolution, diversity and complexity of the biological components of ecosystems; its starting point is the population and its interactions with other populations. Ecosystem ecology is mainly concerned with the functioning of the overall system composed of biological organisms and their abiotic environment; its starting point is the flow of matter or energy among functional compartments.

This separation of the two subdisciplines is understandable as they partly address issues at different hierarchical levels and different spatial and temporal scales. But it is harmful insofar as it is an obstacle to their unity and mutual enrichment. Populations and communities do not exist in isolation; they are parts of ecosystems, and, as such, they are subjected to constraints arising from ecosystem functioning, in particular energy dissipation and nutrient cycling. These constraints can deeply alter the nature of species interactions and community properties such as food-web stability. On the other hand, ecosystems do not exist without their biological components; the latter impose their own constraints on ecosystem processes, as the disruptions generated by some biological invasions attest. In the face of the growing threat of a massive loss of biological diversity, interest is increasing concerning the role of biodiversity in ecosystem processes. There is today an urgent need for integration of the two subdisciplines.

Such an integration is already emerging on a world-wide scale as well as in Europe, as a result of both basic and applied scientific questions: How will changes in species and genetic diversity affect ecosystem processes and the related services they provide to humankind? How will these changes affect the stability of ecosystems, and their ability to withstand natural and anthropogenic perturbations? How do biological organisms and abiotic factors interact to regulate the flow of energy, the structure of the food web and the cycling of chemical elements in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems? On a large time scale, are plants, animals and micro-organisms involved in mutualistic relationships mediated by material cycling despite their apparent immediate antagonism? Can indirect interactions evolve by natural selection and significantly influence species traits? These are some examples of the questions that have recently received growing attention.

Both population, community and ecosystem ecology have a long history in Europe, but, as mentioned above, these subdisciplines have had largely separate developments, with different strengths in different countries and laboratories. Attempts towards the goal of integration of the subdisciplines are developing rapidly through new experimental and theoretical approaches, but they are still dispersed, both scientifically and geographically. European ecology would greatly benefit from a coordinated effort to stimulate exchanges of ideas, of new theoretical insights, of new experimental systems, and of researchers among European countries.




You can download the full paper as a *.pdf: click here

 

 

Summit for the Future on Risk - Life Sciences


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