A unified framework to quantify biogeochemical complexity of large-scale ecological systems

Tiffany Troxler
Dan Liptzin
Chelsea Crenshaw

Ecological complexity, a new but rapidly developing field integrating complexity theory and ecosystem function, can provide insights to tackle critical environmental problems. Here, ecological complexity is not merely describing complicated systems, but complex in the sense of studying many interacting components controlled by drivers operating across multiple scales. By simply averaging plot level biogeochemical processes, synthetic analysis of these data tends to characterize large-scale ecological systems as homogeneous units, does not adequately account for spatial and temporal variability, and is not an adequate means of characterizing the potential contribution of complexity within these systems. These interactions and scaling issues often make a synoptic understanding of ecological systems hard to quantify and the responses to changes in drivers even more difficult to predict. When even simple interactions result in unanticipated outcomes, an understanding of biogeochemical systems at large scales and across diverse ecological systems requires adequate characterization of the spatial and temporal variability within these systems, and ultimately drivers that occur at those scales. Aspects of ecological complexity theory may provide the theoretical framework and the tools necessary to address these issues.

We propose to develop an integrated research framework that:

  1. identifies biogeochemical structures and processes that contribute to biogeochemical complexity (BGCC) across a variety of ecosystem types and
  2. conceptualize how this complexity can be quantified to provide a more meaningful characterization of its contribution in large-scale biogeochemical systems to better address scaling issues.

Following critical work in the area of merging ecological principles and complexity theory, a primary objective of this approach is to develop a framework that can be applied across diverse ecological systems. Our proposed 2009 working group will further build on earlier efforts of a 2006 LTER ASM working group where invited speakers presented their research in the context of illuminating the biogeochemical complexity of their respective sites or of specific research projects. Our proposed product-oriented working group will focus on the development of a draft manuscript. We will synthesize qualitative data on biogeochemical pattern and process of 3 LTER sites to initiate development of a working model of broad applicability. Our draft manuscript will include presentation of this model framework and a case study to elucidate the application of this framework that ultimately can be employed to quantify biogeochemical complexity across diverse ecological systems. We will demonstrate how this framework can be applied to identify data gaps and how it will support a database of relevant LTER site information with the goal of filling those gaps. We will also illustrate how further development of this framework can provide a tool of unique and broad application for resource managers to identify and prioritize management strategies.

Session Info

Working Group Session 1

Mon, 09/14/2009 - 1:30pm - 3:30pm

Working Group Session 2

Mon, 09/14/2009 - 4:00pm - 6:00pm
Longs Peak Diamond East