Lakes as Examples of a Natural System (An Ecosystem)

A system can be described in a number of ways. One useful way is to say that a system has the following:

  1. Boundaries
  2. Components
  3. Connections and Feedbacks
  4. Emergent Properties
  5. History

Lakes are a superb medium for us to begin to look at ways of approaching a complex system such as an ecosystem.

Forbes (1887) pointed out that lakes could be viewed as a microcosm for understanding larger systems. This concept works because lake ecosystems, much more than most, are fairly self-contained and appear at least to be at a relatively comprehensible scale. The lake as a microcosm has proved to be an extremely valuable concept and lakes proved to be critical in setting up our basic understanding of the flow of energy and materials within the Earth System.

For example, using the nomenclature introduced above for a system we could describe the outlines of a lake system as follows.

  1. It is bounded by the waters edge
  2. It may be broken into components.
    1. epilimnion
    2. hypolimnion
    3. biota
  3. It has connections and feedbacks
    1. inputs
    2. outputs
    3. energy flow (Carbon)
    4. water motion
  4. It has emergent properties
    1. self organization (most importantly it has communities in equilibrium.)
    2. primary productivity
    3. species evolution
  5. It has a history
    1. lake ontogeny
    2. climate forcing
    3. history of basin
    4. historical changes in ecosystem components

Updated January 19, 2005
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