During the past couple of decades, two seemingly unrelated themes have emerged, sequentially, as new focal points in the study of ecological systems. In addition to adding to the fund of knowledge about ecosystem science, the results of these studies, in combination, have had a large impact on how knowledge about the status and operation of ecosystems is conveyed to nonspecialists. One of these themes is the concept that biodiversity, per se, plays a role in the functioning of ecosystems. The second theme is that of linking ecosystem processes to the delivery of services to society.
The prevailing studies of ecosystem functioning up to this period concentrated on understanding the interactions of the most fundamental ecosystem units, that is, trophic levels, and their operation in controlling the fluxes of carbon, energy, water, and nutrients. This simple but powerful paradigm enabled great advances in our understanding of ecosystem dynamics.
There has been a growing concern in recent times, however, with the increasing loss of species from ecosystems due to impacts of biotic disruptions of various kinds (hunting, selective harvesting, invasions), land-use change, and pollution. The question arose of how these losses of species were affecting ecosystem functioning. This issue resulted in a large-scale international effort to probe this question across the major biomes of the world. The initial effort relied mostly on information gathered for other purposes, but it nevertheless was useful for analyzing this new question. More recently there has been a shift toward experimental approaches to this question, with a considerable body of literature resulting.
At the end of the initial global synthesis, which was run under the auspices of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), it was concluded that the analysis was hampered by our lack of knowledge of underground biodiversity and processes. The decision to initiate a new study on belowground biodiversity and ecosystem functioning was the genesis of this book and much of the work that led to it. Further discussion, however, led to the innovation that is captured in this volume. Rather than merely looking at soil biodiversity, it was proposed that the analysis focus on below-surface processes, including terrestrial and aquatic. This was a very bold move, since it brought two very disparate scientific communities together, yet these commu nities, as was suspected early on, shared commonality in the processes that they studied. Bringing these communities together also had the important result of focusing on the linkages between below-surface terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems.
As our knowledge of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning was accumulating, another somewhat independent line of inquiry was developing. This was the consideration of how the results of ecosystem processes produces the goods and services upon which human societies depend. This has proven to be a very powerful extension of our understanding of the role of biodiversity in ecosystem functioning in terms that are extremely relevant to policies relating to the use of biotic resources. This work has turned out to be intellectually challenging. It focuses attention on ecosystem linkages in a whole new manner. It forces us to look at the whole train of ecosystem processes that result in clean water, for example, including all of the biological, physical, and chemical processes involved. Importantly, in the larger analysis, it involves the assessment of how those processes that deliver clean water, in this example, can be compromised by the alteration of ecosystem properties resulting from management practices designed to deliver different services, which we also value, such as food.
There is another important thread that is captured in this book in addition to system functioning, services, and linkages: the vulnerability of these systems to continue to provide services under global changes. Thus this volume is innovative in its scope and important in its conclusions. An excellent team under the leadership of Diana Wall has produced a volume that no doubt will be a template for future syntheses as well as an important guidepost of the crucial research needs in this vital area of research.
Harold A. Mooney Department of Biological Sciences Stanford, California, USA
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