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Glossary of terms for managing wholes

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economics - The social science that chiefly studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Conventional economics ignores or takes for granted many factors that underpin working economies, such functioning environments on which they depend. Today environmental and social factors increasingly affect commercial output. Civilizations collapse when they destroy the natural resource base on which they depend, as has happened repeatedly through history. For commerce to remain economically viable in the long run, economics must incorporate the environment and properly value environmental health.

Economics ... encompasses all variables of the equation that influence an economy. Given the complexity with which nature functions and that in many nations these functions have been severely impacted by human activity, we need to understand that environmental considerations such as ecosystem function underpin our national economies.

Chris Henggeler

ecosystem - Conventionally defined as a community of organisms and its environment functioning as one ecological unit. In reality, Earth functions as one globe-spanning ecosystem. Pollution, ozone depletion, and other environmental damage stubbornly refuse to stay within national boundaries. Conventionally defined ecosystems function as wholes within the larger whole of Earth's global ecosystem. To distinguish these concepts, some people refer to Earth's ecosystem, and to environments within it.

ecosystem blocks - ecosystem foundation blocks.

ecosystem foundation blocks - The four basic ecosystem processes: water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow, and community dynamics.

ecosystem function - How well an ecosystem functions, especially in terms of its fundamental biological processes: water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow, and community dynamics. Also used sometimes to mean one of these processes.

Related pages: "Landscape monitoring for ecosystem health"

ecosystem processes - Most commonly, the four basic processes at work in all landscapes: water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow, and community dynamics.

Related pages: "Fundamental ecosystem processes and how they work " (articles)

emergence - In complex systems, the arising of patterns, structures, or properties that don't seem adequately explained by referring only to the system's pre-existing components and their interactions. For example, ant and termite colonies engage in very complex behaviors that arise from the simpler interactions of individuals. Emergence becomes particularly important when

Related terms: emergent properties, whole, holism, emergent properties

emergent properties - The patterns, structures, and properties that arise in complex systems via emergence.

Related terms: whole, holism

energy flow - The process by which energy from sunlight fuels ecosystem functions and feeds virtually all life. Where energy flow is poor, most sunlight gets wasted striking bare ground or dead or dormant growth. As energy flow improves, more leaf area captures more sunlight over a longer season, growing far more food to feed the ecosystem.

Related terms: water cycle, mineral cycle, community dynamics, solar dollars

Related pages: "Fundamental ecosystem processes and how they work " (articles)

Enterprise Facilitation - Ernesto Sirolli's innovative method for transforming people's passion, skill, and motivation into viable local businesses.

Related pages: "Enterprise Facilitation"

environment - The biological community of a particular place, along with the and factors that affect it, such a climate, soil, and topography. Earth's single ecosystem contains many environments.

exposed tree roots
Severe erosion has washed most of the soil from around the roots of this tree.

exponential curve

exponential growth
Exponential growth on a pond. The surface remains mostly clear until near the end.

erosion - The wearing away of land by water, wind, or glacial ice.

Related terms: pedestal erosion, crumb structure, desertification

Related pages: "erosion slide show"

exclosure - A fenced area designed to exclude livestock, and sometimes wild grazing animals as well. Exclosures demonstrate the effects of prolonged rest from disturbance.

Related terms: rest, destructive rest, animal impact

exotics - Non-native species.

exponential curve - A curve plotting change over time, in which the rate of change keeps increasing. This is typical of phenomenon in nature which are not self-regulating. Exponential growth can quickly get out of control, especially since the rate of change seems relatively low until the last part of the curve. Compare sigmoid curve.

Related terms: positive feedback, normal curve

exponential growth - Growth that follows an exponential curve. Species that don't regulate their own numbers typically increase exponentially until they reach or surpass the limits of their ecosystem.

Exponential growth poses a problem for managers because the situation seems "normal" until the brink of disaster. For instance, imagine a pond where the area covered by water plants doubles every month:

Exponential growth explains how pest outbreaks can happen so quickly. Populations growing exponentially can quickly outstrip available resources. Because problems at the fast-growth end of the curve develop so quickly, noticing early-warning signals and getting people to respond to them in time to avert disaster can be a challenge.

Related terms: positive feedback

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Suggestions for terms or definitions? Email us (opens web form).

Posted 23 April 2003