Introduction to Systems Ecology: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Introduction to Systems Ecology

1st Edition

By Sven Erik Jorgensen

CRC Press

358 pages | 49 Color Illus. | 123 B/W Illus.

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Possibly the first textbook to present a practically applicable ecosystems theory, Introduction to Systems Ecology helps readers understand how ecosystems work and how they react to disturbances. It demonstrates—with many examples and illustrations—how to apply the theory to explain observations and to make quantitative calculations and predictions.

In this book, Sven Erik Jørgensen takes a first step toward integrating thermodynamics, biochemistry, hierarchical organization, and network theory into a holistic theory of systems ecology. The first part of the book covers the laws of thermodynamics and the basic biochemistry of living organisms, as well as the constraints they impose on ecosystems. To grow and develop, however, ecosystems have to evade these thermodynamic and biochemical constraints, so the second part of the book discusses the seven basic properties that enable ecosystems to grow, develop, and survive:

  • They are open systems, far from thermodynamic equilibrium.
  • They are organized hierarchically.
  • They have a high diversity.
  • They have high buffer capacities toward changes.
  • Their components are organized in cooperative networks, which allows for sophisticated feedback, regulation mechanisms, and higher efficiencies.
  • They contain an enormous amount of information embodied in genomes.
  • They have emerging system properties.

This timely textbook also looks at how systems ecology is applied in integrated environmental management, particularly in ecological modeling and engineering and in the assessment of ecosystem health using ecological indicators. Acknowledging that there is still much room for improvement, it will inspire ecologists to develop a stronger and more widely applicable ecosystem theory.


"… the first work that is devoted to the presentation of a practically applicable ecosystems theory. It integrates four aspects of systems ecology, namely, thermodynamics, biochemistry, hierarchical organization and network theory, all of which are illustrated by many examples and exercises to help students better understand the topics."

MAMMALIA, September 2013

Table of Contents

System Ecology: An Ecological Discipline

What Is Systems Ecology?

The Holistic Approach

Outline of the Book


Conservation of Energy and Matter

The Conservation Laws

Other Thermodynamic Functions

Liebig’s Law of Minimum

Bioaccumulation and Biomagnification

Cycling in Ecosystems and in the Ecosphere

Energy Flows in Ecosystems

Ecosystems: Growth and Development

The Maximum Power Principle

Embodied Energy/Emergy

Ecosystem as a Biochemical Reactor

Technological and Ecological Interpretation of the Thermodynamic

Concept Exergy

Eco-Exergy and Information

Irreversibility and Order: The Second and Third Laws of Thermodynamics

Open Systems

Physical Openness

Ontic Openness

The Second Law of Thermodynamics Interpreted for Ecosystems

The Third Law of Thermodynamics Applied on Open Systems

Dissipative Structure and Eco-Exergy

How to Calculate Exergy of Organic Matter and Organisms

Why Have Living Systems Such a High Level of Exergy?

The Biochemistry of Ecosystems

A General Biochemistry for Living Systems

The First Steps of the Evolution toward a Biochemistry

The Prokaryote Cells

The Eukaryote Cells

The Temperature Range Needed for Life Processes

Natural Conditions for Life

Ecological Stoichiometry

The Thermodynamic Interpretation of Ecosystem Growth and Development


The Ecosystem Development Described by a Thermodynamic Interpretation of the Three Growth Forms

Seasonal Changes

New Ecosystems

The Ecological Law of Thermodynamics

Introduction: Darwin’s Theory

The Ecological Law of Thermodynamics (ELT)

Some Basic Ecological Observations (Rules) That Can Be Explained by ELT

Structurally Dynamic Models (SDMs)

The Compliance between ELT and Evolutionary Theories


Ecosystems Are Open Systems

Why Must Ecosystems Be Open?

The Allometric Principles and Quantification of Openness

Ecosystems Have a Hierarchical Organization

The Hierarchical Organization

Interactions between the Hierarchical Levels

The Variations and the Hierarchical Organization

The Frequency of Disturbances

Ontic Openness and the Hierarchy Theory

Ecosystems Have a High Diversity


The Wide Spectrum of Forcing Functions

The Molecular Differentiation in Biochemistry

The Genetic Differentiation

The Diversity of Cells

The Diversity of Organs

Diversity among Individuals

Species Diversity

Differentiation of Communities and Ecological Networks

Diversity of Ecosystems

The Advantages of a High Biodiversity

Diversity and Extreme Environment

Ecosystems Have a High Buffer Capacity

Introduction: Stability Concepts

The Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis (IDH)

Hysteresis and Buffer Capacities

Chaos, Disturbances, and Buffer Capacities

The Components of Ecosystems Form Ecological Networks


Ecological Networks Increase Utilization Efficiency of Matter and Energy

Cardinal Hypotheses about the Properties of Networks

Network Analyses

Network Selection by Ecosystems

Ecosystems Have a Very High Content of Information

The Information Embodied in the Genes

The Ascendency

Information Embodied in the Networks and Horizontal Evolution

Life Is Information

Ecosystems Have Emerging Holistic System Properties


Additional Properties of Ecosystems

Application of System Ecology in Ecological Subdisciplines and Environmental Management

Integrated Ecological and Environmental Management Should Be Based on a Profound Knowledge to System Ecology

The Application of Systems Ecology to Explain Ecological Observations and Rules

Application of Systems Ecology to Explain the Principles Applied in Ecological Engineering

Application of Systems Ecology to Assess Ecosystem Health




Chapters include a summary of important points and exercises or problems.

About the Author

Dr. Sven Erik Jørgensen is a professor of environmental chemistry at Copenhagen University. He received a doctorate of engineering in environmental technology and a doctorate of science in ecological modeling. He is an honorable doctor of science at Coimbra University, Portugal, and at Dar es Salaam University, Tanzania. He was editor in chief of Ecological Modelling from the journal’s inception in 1975 to 2009. He has also been the editor in chief of the Encyclopedia of Ecology. In 2004 Dr. Jørgensen was awarded the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize and the Prigogine Prize. He was awarded the Einstein Professorship by the Chinese Academy of Science in 2005. In 2007 he received the Pascal medal and was elected a member of the European Academy of Science. He has written close to 350 papers, most of which have been published in international peer-reviewed journals. He has edited or written 64 books. Dr. Jørgensen has given lectures and courses in ecological modeling, ecosystem theory, and ecological engineering worldwide.

About the Series

Applied Ecology and Environmental Management

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
NATURE / Ecology
SCIENCE / Environmental Science