This course is an introduction to the area of systems ecology, the application of systems theory to the study of ecosystems. Systems ecology uses mathematical modeling and computation to try and understand the networks of interactions between biotic and abiotic elements that give rise to the complex system of an ecology on all scales, from modeling the flow of energy within a microbial ecosystem to trying to understand the nonlinear dynamics of earth’s entire biosphere.
Taking an integrative and interdisciplinary approach it bridges many areas from physics and biology to the social sciences. Whereas traditional ecology has studied ecosystems with little reference to human society, systems ecology breaks down this barrier to include industrial ecologies as an integral part of earth’s systems in the era of the anthropocene, when understanding the complex interaction between society and ecology is central to gaining traction on major contemporary environmental challenges.Content
This course is focused on providing you with the core principles and concepts in system ecology and is broken down into three main sections. In the first section we will be laying down the basics of systems theory in ecology as we talk about, energetics, thermodynamics, emergent integrative levels and ecosystem dynamics.
Next we will be looking at nonlinear systems theory within ecology, as we talk about feedback loops, how ecosystems self-organize, the nonlinear dynamics of abrupt ecosystem regime shifts, stability landscapes and ecological networks.
The final section will be dedicated to socio-ecological systems, we will firstly talk about the new geological era of the anthropocene and the rapidly changing relationship between ecosystem and society. We will look at the area of industrial ecology, models for interpreting socio-ecological systems, their adaptive capacity and resilience, finally we will take an overview to the new area of sustainability science.
In this module we will be giving a high level view to the domain of systems ecology, describing it as the application of systems theory to the study of ecology, as it studies the interaction between organisms and their abiotic environment through systems models. We talk about how it is based upon the process of reasoning called synthesis that is focused primarily on the interaction between systems components and the patterns that emerge out of this instead of the properties of the components themselves.
In this module we will continue on with our discussion on systems ecology as we talk about some of the basic principles and theories within this area, including systems theory that provides the basic abstract generic models.
Energetics that helps to study the flow of energy and materials through networks of biotic and abiotic elements within an ecosystem and try to understand the universal thermodynamic laws that govern these processes. We talk about the idea of hierarchy and integrative levels of organization, that is used to structure our understanding of ecosystems in terms of emergent levels with their own integrated patterns and processes. We discuss feedback loops as another set of models central to understanding regulatory processes and the dynamics of macro scale complex systems as they evolve over time. Finally we try to offer a little context to the subject as it relates to a current need for an integrated understanding of socio-ecological systems given the contemporary societal challenges of sustainability.
In this video we will be talking about emergence and integration levels, central concepts within systems ecology that help to give some structure to our analysis of ecosystems. We talk about integrative levels, or levels of biological organization, as a set of phenomena emerging on pre-existing elements of a more basic form. How through the process of emergence we get many integrative levels creating a hierarchical structure that can exhibit self-similarity across many scales, called fractal structures, with smaller local phenomena nested within larger more generic structures. Finally we will discuss the complex micro macro dynamic within the hierarchy of ecologies where macro level emergent processes and structures feedback to both enable and constrain the micro level constituent components.
In this module we will be continuing on with our discussion on feedback loops, a topic of central interest within systems ecology and systems theory in general. We firstly give a brief outline to the two different types talking about negative feedback as a stabilizing mechanism, while positive feedback can have a destabilizing effect leading to both rapidly compounding beneficial outcomes, called virtuous cycles, or compounded detrimental outcomes called vicious cycles. We then go on to talk about some of the basics to nonlinear dynamics, introducing the idea of a state space and attractors within that space, with these attractors forming some stable equilibrium to the system's state. We look at the idea of a stability landscape that can have multiple stable basins of attraction within it and the idea of a repeller that forms an unstable space governed by positive feedback between these attractors. Finally we will talk about how the model of feedback loops and stability landscapes can be used as a basic model for analysing the resiliency of an ecosystem.
In this video we will be talking about socio-ecological systems which we define as a type of complex adaptive system composed of two primary subdomains, a human society and economy on the one hand and a biological ecology. We talk about how the two systems are governed by different internal feedback loops, on the one hand those of the economy and on the other those of thermodynamics and the ecology. How the interaction between these two systems involves the exchange of energy, matter and information. We will discuss how creating integrated balancing feedback loops between them requires defining some form of common value, what is often called natural capital but how the maintenance of ecosystem services invariably involves some form of commons, that is best managed through social institutions that can build trust and enable cooperation towards effective global outcomes. Finally we mention the cultural dimension that can play a very significant role in its capacity to change how people see the world, enabling better relations between the social and ecological domains.
In this video we will be talking about adaptive capacity and resiliency, the capacity of a socio-ecological system to maintain functionality given some alteration. We talk about the two fundamentally different strategies for achieving this, resistance and adaption. Where resistance involves trying to prevent any alteration to the system by controlling the environment and reducing the input values to the system thus enabling it to function optimally by reducing disturbances. Whereas we talk about adaptation as involving the maintenance of diversity so as to be able to generate the appropriate response required to counterbalance the disturbance, thus managing to maintain functionality. We then talk about the adaptive cycle as a model to the process of change within complex adaptive systems as it describes four different regimes of exploitation, conservation, release and reorganization, through which the system can evolve.
In this module we will been discussing the idea of sustainability within socio-ecological systems, looking at how this very complex emergent feature of a system is really the product of many different interacting factors on many different levels, making it an inherently interdisciplinary area of study that requires a systems approach for a full analysis. We firstly talk about it on the most basic level of the physical interaction between the economic and ecological domains identifying the variables involved such as the supply of ecosystem services the rate of consumption and the efficiency of technology infrastructure. We then go on to recognize the central role of adaption in enabling sustainability, talking about the adaptive capacity of a society as a function of both economic factors involving well aligned feedback loops that reduce externalities, but also social factors requiring social capital to enable local self-organizing adaptive resilience. Finally we will note the role of culture and social identity as another key dimension to the whole dynamic of sustainability within socio-ecological systems.
Think Academy is an e-Learning site dedicated to the area of systems thinking and complexity theory, our mission is to take the world of complexity and make it accessible to all. Systems and complex can be intimidating subjects with many sophisticated concepts, this is why we believe it is important to always start with the most essential, simplest elements of a subject making sure that students come away with a solid understanding of the core concepts behind each area. As Einstein said "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler"
Courses are curated and presented by Joss Colchester. Joss has extensive experience within the domain of complex systems both within academic research(mathematical modeling of complex system + network analysis) and has many years practical systems engineering experience(designing and developing complex web based information systems). He has a passion for taking abstract and complex concepts and making them concrete and accessible to as broad an audience as possible by combining clear and effective graphics with well structured course content.