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Diversity 2010, 2(3), 395-410;

Ecological Systems as Complex Systems: Challenges for an Emerging Science

School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
Department of Biology, McGill University, Montréal Quebec, H3A 1B1, Canada
Department of Biology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, L8S 4K1, Canada
Département de Géographie, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec, H3C 3J7, Canada
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 30 December 2009 / Revised: 1 March 2010 / Accepted: 8 March 2010 / Published: 15 March 2010
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Diversity Theories and Perspectives)
PDF [176 KB, uploaded 15 March 2010]


Complex systems science has contributed to our understanding of ecology in important areas such as food webs, patch dynamics and population fluctuations. This has been achieved through the use of simple measures that can capture the difference between order and disorder and simple models with local interactions that can generate surprising behaviour at larger scales. However, close examination reveals that commonly applied definitions of complexity fail to accommodate some key features of ecological systems, a fact that will limit the contribution of complex systems science to ecology. We highlight these features of ecological complexity—such as diversity, cross-scale interactions, memory and environmental variability—that continue to challenge classical complex systems science. Further advances in these areas will be necessary before complex systems science can be widely applied to understand the dynamics of ecological systems. View Full-Text
Keywords: complex systems science; ecological indicators; environmental variability; model complex systems science; ecological indicators; environmental variability; model

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Anand, M.; Gonzalez, A.; Guichard, F.; Kolasa, J.; Parrott, L. Ecological Systems as Complex Systems: Challenges for an Emerging Science. Diversity 2010, 2, 395-410.

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