Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ecological Principles

While helping a faculty person do some pile sorting in her office, we unearthed this little gem.  Dan Willard was just a bit before my time at SPEA, and I feel like I've missed out not having met and worked with him.  He was well loved, and a pavilion in the research preserve was recently dedicated to him.  This is as  humorous, succinct and honestly useful a summation of ecological principles as I have ever seen.  I wish I'd had such a list available when I first started studying ecology.

Ecological Principles (a guide). Friedman and Willard, 1977-1999.

  1. The Individual Perspective - Each organism can only perceive the environment from its own point of view.
  2. The Individual Response Corollary - Each organism can only respond to what it perceives.
  3. The Darwin Corollary - Each individual is a result of the summed pressures, as the species perceives those pressures, and stochastic events. 
  4. Descarte’s Obvious - Organisms exist, therefore they are adapted to some set of conditions which occur.
  5. The Evolutionary Crap-shoot. - Stochastic events occur.
  6. Specialization Principle - Highest efficiency in use of a resource can be achieved by specialization.
  7. Generalization Principle - Greatest chance of survival in variable and unpredictable environments can be achieved by generalization.
  8. Conservation of Mass - Everything has to go somewhere; everything has to come from somewhere, therefore follow mass.
  9. Second Law of Thermodynamics - Organized systems need energy to maintain their organization, therefore follow energy-flow (look for disruption).
  10. Shelford's Law of Tolerance - Too much or too little is potentially troublesome.
  11. Toxic Substances Qualitative Principle  - Substances with which organisms have had no previous experience are potentially troublesome.
  12. Toxic Substances Quantitative Principle - Substances in concentrations an order of magnitude or more different from normal exposure are potentially troublesome.
  13. Competition Principle - Components which are less fit for a given environment tend to be replaced by others which are more fit to that environment.
  14. Law of Numbers - Plants and animals can't count; structural features (who connects to whom and how) are more important than numbers.
  15. Life-cycle Principle - Babies and adults are intimately connected.
  16. Stress Principle - Organizations tend to alter behavior when stress is encountered; disruption often comes from altered behavior rather than directly from the stress.
  17. Resiliency Principle - Up to a point, ecosystems can absorb stress with little alteration in their behavior; however, past that point they may change suddenly, drastically, and irreversibly.
  18. Principle of Emergency of Impacts - Effects are not necessarily immediate and gradual; they can appear sometime after the event and at distant places.
  19. Connectivity Principle - Everything is not intimately connected with everything else; but lots of things are.
  20. Variability Principle - Ecosystems are inherently variable.  Ecosystems do not tend towards stability, but do tend to change in a stable manner.
  21. Safe-Fail Principle - For ecosystems, we can expect that large fluctuations, irregularities and discrepancies with any theory will occur more or less regularly.  Plan for safe fail rather than fail safe approaches.
  22. Everything Leaks Rule - There are few closed systems.  Some leak more slowly than others.
  23. The Geographic Determinism Doctrine -  Everything happens someplace.  The outcome of events depends on the conditions where, and when, the event takes place.
  24. The Principle of Localities - Organisms must live someplace.  Most populations occupy several disjunct, ecologically similar, but slightly different localities.  Population dynamics express themselves through the sum of changes on each locality.
  25. Spreading-the-risk Corollary - Each locality differs and varies uniquely. Therefore each locality responds differently to external events.  Organisms spread the risk of extinction by inhabiting many localities.
  26. The Perspective of Scale - A molehill is a mountain to a mite.  An Icelandic volcanic eruption is just news in Australia.  The importance of events depends on the size of the ecosystem one studies.
  27. The Prolonged Engagement Principle - Time lends perspective to all things. A forest recovers from a fire in a few years and a lava flow in a few millennia. 
  28. The Notion of Benevolent Catastrophes - Consistency and stability stagnate ecosystems. External, stochastic events destabilize ecosystems causing increased spatial heterogeneity, temporal diversity and generally enhance the adaptability and resiliency of a system.
  29. The Notion of Malevolent Catastrophes - External events, induced either by human or natural actions, may cause the environment to change too quickly for the ecosystem to adapt, or to conditions beyond the adaptability of the organisms. Thus it becomes a new and different sort of ecosystem.
  30. Can't-Step-in-the-Same-River-Twice Paradigm - Everything changes in time and space.  Learn the processes and rates that form and control the ecosystem.  Then lead the target.
  31. Dynamic Disequilibrium Principle - Stability in one part of an ecosystem leads to instability in other parts. Hence the system if left alone is stably unstable.
  32. Inexorability Principle - The ecosystem doesn't give a damn whether you study it or not.
  33. The Non-intervention Option - Consider advantages of leaving ecosystems alone.  Then reconsider your management strategies.
  34. Occam’s Simplification - All ecologists eventually come to similar conclusions about things.