Fundamental ecosystem processes and how they work

Basic knowledge to help you manage ecosystems successfully.

Fundamental ecosystem processes and how they work

Index of articles and links

By understanding and monitoring a few fundamental processes that operate in every ecosystem, we can simplify the complexity of natural systems enough to manage natural resources skillfully.

Allan Savory
dry riverbed
Poor ecosystem function. This river only runs during flash floods.

green riverbed
Healthier ecosystem function. This nearby river has water year-round. Article

The 4 fundamental ecosystem processes

A brief introduction to the basic ecosystem processes: water cycle, mineral cycle, solar energy flow, and community dynamics (succession). Monitoring these 4 processes tells you whether landscape health is improving or deteriorating, long before damage or improvement become obvious. By Joy Livingwell, February 2003.

The water cycle

The water cycle: What determines whether rain evaporates and runs off soil, or whether it waters plants and recharges groundwater? By Peter Donovan, Patterns of Choice, 1997.

A simple and remarkable water cycle demo using plastic soda bottles. June 2002.

Flash water cycle demo (850 K) demonstrates the commonest causes of flooding, drought, and desertification.

New! PowerPoint water cycle demo (zipped, about 1.3 megabytes) shows how conditions at the soil surface can cause or prevent droughts, floods, and desertification. English: Water cycle basics; Les principes de base du cycle de l'eau; Chinese: 水循环常识; Russian: Водный цикл

Preparing soil for rain by Chris Henggeler. Photos demonstrate the difference between land that sheds rain, and land that absorbs it. On the Environmental Literacy website.

Water absorption in grazed and rested pastures by Tony Malmberg. A simple experiment demonstrates how both grazing and recovery improve the watery cycle. March 2003.

Improving rain absorption and reducing flood damage using good grazing management by Peter Donovan. Better management replaces annuals like cheatgrass with perennials that help soil absorb water, and whose deep roots hold soil. The Wallowa County Chieftain, 1997.

Energy cycle

Energy flow. Explores the energy that drives ecosystem processes. By Peter Donovan, Patterns of Choice, 1998.

Mineral cycle

Mineral cycles. Explores the ecology of the chemicals that make up the bulk of life on Earth. By Peter Donovan, Patterns of Choice, 1998.

Community dynamics

Community dynamics in the ecosystem. Why it takes a lot more energy and labor to maintain a wheat field than a prairie. By Peter Donovan, Patterns of Choice, 1998.