The importance of the food chain as an indicator of the inner dynamics of an ecosystem is very much in evidence in so-called "natural" environments. The International Biological Programme, initiated in the mid-1960s, focused on productivity at the primary (vegetal) and secondary (animal) levels. Its attention was set exclusively on plant and animal communities in the wild. To this day, in the view of some biologists and geographers, the very notion of an ecosystem has no legitimate application to human-controlled and human-made areas.
The ball-of-arrows model extends the forces of production to those of investment and control. In it, any given ecosystem, whether natural or not, is defined by the interaction of 5 factors:
Trophic levels are more or less distinct stages, stratified in time and space, in which resources are carried from one state to another (eg, from mineral to plant). Each level is characterized by associated and more or less exclusive processes which make up the regime: (I) minerotrophy, the lowest level (eg, disaggregation, WEATHERING, EROSION); (II) phytotrophy (eg, photosynthesis, respiration, rooting, dispersion); (III) zootrophy (phytophagy or herbivory); (IV) zootrophy (carnivory or predation); (V) investment or technotrophy (eg, damming, plowing, construction, urbanization); and the highest level, (VI) control or noötrophy (eg, zoning, planning, financing, legislation).
The interaction of these 5 factors results in a more encompassing definition. An ecosystem is, then, a defined space in which cycling of resources through one or more trophic levels is effected by more or less numerous agents using mutually compatible processes (simultaneously or successively) to generate products usable in the short or long term.
This model lends itself to an indefinite variety of applications. It allows for the flow of energy upwards and downwards from any one of the 6 trophic levels to any other one. It also permits the input of resources from one or more other ecosystems and for the output of its products or wastes in the direction of other ecosystems. It remains to identify the materials or information that are carried in such a flow. Thus, the metabolic regime at the phytotrophic level converts plant tissues to be processed by insects at the zootrophic level.
Consequently, ecosystems will differ from one another in several respects: the distribution of trophic loads, relative anatomy and position in the regional mosaic.
Networks of ecosystems will provide an account of local and regional dynamics through the identification of the resources that actually flow through the arrows within the ecosystem and from one ecosystem to and from all those with which it is in a position of exchange. Thus, an orchard will have the following suppliers: an industrial plant will convey fertilizers to level I; a nursery will send young plants to level II; a beehive will provide pollination at level III; agricultural machinery will be imported at level V; governmental agents will impose market restrictions at level VI. On the other hand, clients for the product (apples) of level II are quite numerous, from the market to private homes, fruit-processing plants, distilleries and candy and pastry shops, all of them being distinct ecosystems.
A landscape is a mosaic of ecosystems. Ecosystems are spaces where resources are variously cycled. Inputs and outputs relate ecosystems to each other in a network that characterizes any landscape. An ecological analysis will result in maps revealing the order of magnitude and the relative spatial and dynamic weight of certain functions, notably the respective contribution of production, investment and control. An understanding of the dynamics of each ecosystem is essential to the management of land and sea and to the productivity of the environment as a whole.
Author PIERRE DANSEREAU
Pierre Dansereau, Harmony and Disorder in the Canadian Environment (1975), and "Interdisciplinary Perspective on Production-investment-control Processes in the Environment", Vancouver Declaration, Proceedings of UNESCO Symposium on Science and Culture for the 21st Century: Agenda for Survival (1990).
Links to Other Sites
Glossary: Forest Ecosystems
A bilingual glossary of terms frequently used in the study of forest ecosystems in Canada. From the Canadian Forest Service.
Ecoregions of British Columbia
This Government of British Columbia website features a comprehensive, well-illustated survey of the province's varied ecological regions.
The Ecological Framework of Canada
This site describes Canada's ecozones and the general concepts of ecological classification. Based on data developed by Environment Canada.
Commission for Environmental Cooperation
An international organization created by Canada, Mexico and the United States under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC). The CEC was established to address regional environmental concerns, help prevent potential trade and environmental conflicts, and to promote the effective enforcement of environmental law.
An extensive information source about the geological history, human settlement patterns, earth and water resources, and natural hazards found in locations across the country. Click on the red symbols on the interactive map of Canada to explore aerial landscapes, maps, photos, colourful online posters, and more. A Geoscape Canada website from Natural Resources Canada.
Bedford Institute of Oceanography
The website for the Bedford Institute of Oceanography. Features many research reports, maps, diagrams and multimedia resources about oceanography. Also profiles the Canadian Coast Guard survey vessels stationed at the Institute. Check the informative “Program Overview” before searching this very extensive site.
The website for the WILD school program. Find out about participating in hands-on wildlife surveys and other fun learning activities from the Canadian Wildlife Federation.
Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement
The website for the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, the premier award for environmental science, environmental health, and energy. Check out the profiles of the Tyler Laureates, including David Schindler and other Canadian recipients.
Soils of Canada
An interactive map depicting the distribution of soil types in Canada. From Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
The State of Canada's Birds
The State of Canada's Birds report offers a comprehensive picture of the current health of bird populations in Canada.
The Montréal Biodôme invites you to take a virtual tour of its ecosystems.
NatureServe Canada provides scientific information about Canada’s species and ecosystems to help guide effective conservation action and natural resource management.
Glossary: Ecosystem Processes and Stressors
A fact sheet and glossary about ecosystem processes and stressors. From Parks Canada.
A glossary of environmental terms from the website for the Protected Areas Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Race Rocks Ecological Reserve
An extensive website devoted to the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve. Offers detailed information about local First Nations history and present day environmental conservation programs.Produced by Pearson College and partner organizations.
Earth Day Canada
Check out the website for Earth Day Canada for local Earth Day events in your community. Find out what each of us can do to lessen our environmental impact.
Take a virtual tour of Qu'Appelle Valley to explore the fascinating wildlife and geological history of this picturesque region in southern Saskatchewan. Also provides clear explanations of basic ecological and geological concepts related to the natural features of this area. From the University of Regina.
Explore the dynamic earth and ocean on Canada's Pacific edge!
Explore recent discoveries in deep sea geology and biology off the west coast of Canada. Click on "Dynamic Earth" for an informative overview of related scientific concepts. From the "Science on the Leading Edge" website.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...