Analysing biodiversity: The necessity of interdisciplinary trends in the development of ecological theory

Poiesis and Praxis 3 (s 1-2):83-105 (2004)
Abstract
Technological advancement has an ambivalent character concerning the impact on biodiversity. It accounts for major detrimental environmental impacts and aggravates threads to biodiversity. On the other hand, from an application perspective of environmental science, there are technical advancements, which increase the potential of analysis, detection and monitoring of environmental changes and open a wider spectrum of sustainable use strategies.The concept of biodiversity emerged in the last two decades as a political issue to protect the structural and functional basis of earthbound life. In this respect, it represents a great challenge for science, in particular for ecology, which is the scientific discipline mainly involved in contributing to understand biodiversity issues.In this paper, we state a strong necessity for ecologists to work in close connection with other disciplines and within their own discipline across the different organisation levels. Each level has some specific properties to which ecological terminology has been adapted, and joint views are necessary to understand complex networks. In this context, ecological theory provides the background to analyse biological complexity and the relationship of structure and dynamics on different integration levels and provides the interface to mediate social and political issues.Important features of new technologies for advances in ecological theory refer to (1) an increase in information processing capacities, (2) more efficient automatic data acquisition and device operation, and (3) an increase in resolution (grain and extent).One crucial consideration we analyse is the trend that a quantitative development in one particular discipline may open a new potential for qualitative advancement in other disciplines when the quantitative advancement is applied in a new disciplinary context.We illustrate these qualitative developments that are based on technological advancements and which helped to advance ecological theory qualitatively with two examples: (1) The underlying mechanisms causing regularly oscillating rodent populations are subject to a decade long discussion in ecology. Using the possibilities of modern information processing, it is possible to represent the discussed hypotheses in an integrative object oriented model and analyse how the underlying causal net works. (2) The second example originates from biosafety research dealing with the environmental impact of genetically modified organisms (GMO). The project GenEERA develops a complex up-scaling procedure from below field-level information to the landscape scale in order to investigate spread and persistence of GM oil seed rape (Brassica napus) under different scenarios. The approach gives an example, how ecological modelling can be used to combine different information levels to derive conclusions on a higher spatial scale.In an overall conclusion we relate the described approaches to a wider system analytical context in which we interpret theory developments and biodiversity issues with a system theoretical description of growth processes. We obtain the view that in self-organising systems there is a tendency for autonomous development which tends to be dominating far away from capacity limitations. However, while approaching capacity limitations, a tendency towards closer coupling of internal and external cause-effect networks emerges. We also find that the relation of biodiversity, ecosystem services, and social dynamics can be interpreted in this framework. In this context, the demand for closer interdisciplinary cooperation to solve existing problems appears as an indication of emerging capacity limitations (or the reaching of saturation levels) both, in the theoretical as well as in the (bio-) physical domain
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