Future directions of ecosystem science

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Scientific knowledge about ecosystem structure and function has expanded greatly during the past few decades. Terrestrial and aquatic nutrient cycling, ecosystem energetics, population dynamics, belowground processes, and food webs have been studied at the plot, stand, watershed, and landscape levels at many locations around the globe. Ideas about terrestrial-atmospheric interactions and human interference in these processes have changed dramatically. There is new appreciation of the need to incorporate into ecosystem studies the interactions between human populations and the ecosystem, not only because humans affect ecosystem processes, but because these systems support human populations (Glantz 1988, Holden 1988, Parry et al. 1988, WCED 1987).

Recent advances in ecosystem science are due, in part, to technological improvements in computing power, new laboratory and field physical and chemical analytical techniques, and satellite imagery for remote sensing of Earth's structure and dynamics. Modeling and geographic information systems have provided the capability for integrating multiple data sets with process simulations to generate hypotheses about regional ecosystem function.

Concurrent with these scientific developments has been a growing concern about the links between the health of the environment and world-wide industrial, land, and resource-management practices. Environmental damage at the local level was widely recognized in the 1960s, prompting the environmental movement of that decade. Regional environmental problems with multiple effects and politically difficult solutions have been perceived more recently; the issue of acidic deposition provides an example of such a second-generation concern (Clark and Holling 1985). Today there is a growing awareness of global-scale environmental degradation brought about by the combined actions of all peoples on Earth (Clark 1989, Woodmansee et al. 1988).

The three levels of environmental concern--local, regional, and global--have not replaced one another (Clark and Holling 1985). Instead, the effects are superimposed, creating what some perceive as impending global environmental crisis (Clark 1989, MacNeill 1989, WCED 1987). Public demands are developing for economic, political, social, and environmental efforts directed toward creating a state of global sustainability.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Future directions of ecosystem science
Series title BioScience
Volume 40
Issue 9
Year Published 1990
Language English
Publisher American Institute of Biological Sciences
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Description 3 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title BioScience
First page 640
Last page 642
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