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Ecosystem function: nature's basic processes

Holistic approaches that help people understand and work with nature.

Index of articles and links

Key ecosystem processes

Basic ecosystem processes (articles). Even a simple ecosystem is very complex. To help us work with nature's complexity, we can focus on four fundamental processes that operate in any ecosystem: water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow, and succession.

Dan Dagget
bare trampled ground
In a test of animal impact, this 2 ha (5 acre) test plot got repeated "nuked" with up to 1,000 cattle, with very long rest periods.

lush growth
Trampling planted seeds; dung fertilized them. Result: lusher growth than outside the fence. Babbitt Ranch, Flagstaff, Arizona, U.S.A.

Landscape brittleness (articles). A landscape's degree of brittleness determines whether rest from disturbances such as grazing and fire will heal it, or damage it further. Management that doesn't suit the landscape is the leading cause of desertification worldwide.

Examples and photos of ecosystem function and dysfunction in our environmental restoration section.


Landscape monitoring (articles). Ways to assess land's health, discover whether it's improving or deteriorating, and determine what it needs to become or remain healthy.

Landscape damage

Erosion: why it happens and what to do about it (slide show) by Joy Livingwell. Pictures from around the world tell the story of erosion's causes, costs, and cures. In 2 parts: why erosion happens (20 photos); protecting and growing soil (15 photos).

Desertification -- what it is and how to fix it (articles). Desertification currently affects about 1/4 of Earth's land area. Most conventional "solutions" for desertification can't work. Describes proven methods that succeed.

Grazing and overgrazing (articles). What is overgrazing? Until recently wild herds of millions severely grazed and trampled the world's grasslands without destroying the land. Why do small numbers of livestock destroy the same areas?

Healing damaged land (section). Success stories from around the world: restoring biodiversity, creating wildlife habitat, pest control, generating water by restoring water cycle function with livestock, and more.

Soil and soil-building

Improving soil health and building new soil (articles). Soil health is vital to ecosystem health. How to use managed grazing to promote new soil formation, up to several cm per year.

Working with soil life (articles). Soil organisms, particularly fungi that help plant roots absorb nutrients, are vital to maintaining soil health. The organisms present affect which nutrients are available and which plants can grow and thrive. Soil life can be seeded, its activity measured, and its health promoted by good management.