On this blog (FFF), Bare Bones posting day rolls around twice a week like clockwork, but our Bare Bones Ecology Book requires thinking between posting days, which can be a bit of a problem. Thinking is not as reliable as time, and I don’t have a detailed materials cycle for you today, so let’s begin with a bit of background for chapter 02.

As we have emphasized, the ecosystem (and all other living things) require for their survival:

1. the flow of energy through the “body,” as the energy is converted from sunlight to food to heat in the process of doing work;

2. the cycling of materials that, unlike energy, can be used over and over again;

3. the flow of information over time to maintain and reproduce the flexibility, resilience and stability of the interacting functions that are necessary to do the work of processing energy and recycling materials.

That was in the introduction to chapter 01. We will publish the introduction and chapter 01 when we receive feedback from one more editor, and the ISBN number. But don’t wait for the book, the pdf can be downloaded from the link at the right.

Meantime, the main points of chapter 01 are:

1. Life can be defined by its ability to maintain itself and reproduce itself;

2. The earth ecosystem is a unit of life, and like all units of life it requires organic energy for its survival (to maintain and reproduce itself). All organisms require organic energy for food. Only the green ones can convert light energy to organic energy. Therefore it is the green organisms that limit the amount of energy that is available to keep the earth ecosystem alive.

3. The earth requires, for its survival, a balanced relationship between the energy that it uses to stay alive and the energy that is available. The ecosystem also requires a balanced relationship between the molecules that contain the organic energy (food and other resources) and the waste products of metabolizing the food (carbon dioxide and water and some other minerals and molecules). In addition, energy-out must balance energy-in (or vice versa) for the earth ecosystem to maintain itself over long periods of time. All the food and minerals and organic molecules and other resources must stay in balance. In other words, for life to maintain itself and reproduce itself, it must maintain a balance among all the activities that keep it alive.

4. We are living organisms. Therefore our economy is component of the earth ecosystem. Our economy is totally based on food and energy and minerals and organic molecules. Therefore, the economy must also be maintained in balance for the ecosystem to survive. Because of our technologies, that are part of the economy, we have the theoretical ability to fatally unbalance the ecosystem. Ecological balance is sustainable; Ponzi economics will either run out of resources or create too many waste products for all the interacting systems of the earth ecosystem to maintain in balance.

5. The ecosystem maintains its balance by all the interacting processes of all the levels of its organization. In other words, the ecosystem requires all the diverse species of organisms to do the work of balancing the energy, balancing the resources, and responding to the imbalance created by anything. The resilient balance of all its parts and processes is what makes the ecosystem sustainable.

Chapter 02 of Bare Bones Ecology will be about the cycling of materials. Mostly chapter two is a rather nit-picky collection of : carbon cycle, water cycle, nitrogen cycle; phosphorus cycle, and a bunch of other cycles, and a description of how each of them actually works. I don’t know about you, but I find this rather boring, and it’s easy enough to find descriptions of the cycles on line or in any ecology book. For me, the interesting part is the bottom line of how life works, and we already mentioned that life works by staying in balance. The interacting processes of all the organisms of all the levels help to cycle and recycle the materials (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, etc.) that are required to maintain life. The water cycle, for example, is the product of living processes. It is not just something that automatically happens between the air and the rivers and oceans, but is intimately directed by the living ecosystem itself. We will talk about a few materials cycles over the next couple of weeks.

After that, we will tackle the information flow. In chapter 03. That will be fun. Genetics, cell biology, evolution.