Skip navigation
PDF 1.5 MB
Pages 87-88
First published 30 July 2014

Ecosystem memory is emergent from local-level natural selection

Daniel A. Power, Eörs Szathmáry and Richard A. Watson

Abstract (Excerpt)

Because the form of an ecosystem is shaped chiefly through the selection and amplification of chance genetic and environmental events at lower levels of organisation (sensu Maynard Smith and Szathm┬┤ary (1997)), the number of evolutionary outcomes for these systems is enormous. Theoretical models of ecosystem evolution and function generally show sensitivity to initial conditions and small disturbances that result in very different behaviours for mature systems (May, 2001). These non-linearities mean that ecosystem function is historically contingent; we observe path dependency (over evolutionary timescales) as well as those non-linearities (including hysteresis) that occur over ecological timescales. For researchers seeking to understand the degree to which ecosystem properties are the result of abiotic environmental conditions and the extent to which they are emergent from self-organisation (Levin, 1998), this contingency adds an additional intricacy: some ecosystem features may be a result of residual selforganisational responses to prior environmental conditions that are no longer active.