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A History of the Ecosystem Concept in Ecology

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Issue: 
Fall 2002

- Karen Baker, Palmer LTER (PAL )

Frank Golley, 1993. A History of the Ecosystem Concept in Ecology, Yale University Press, 254p.

In order to gain insight into a concept, context is provided by some often-nonlinear historical events. As LTER community members, we benefit from the the sweep and the depth of Frank Golley's presentation on ecosystem science. As information managers, we benefit from his recognition of the need for information management in combining, extending and passing on the data that science gathers. One historical note worth mentioning because it highlights an important distinction sometimes lost in the tacit understanding of our current research environment, is that LTER is not an acronym for Long-Term Ecosystem Research (p118) but rather for Long-Term Ecological Research. Is this an important distinction? Golley provides organizational examples, contrasting the business model for big science programs with a more academic approach. LTER, as a network, is a community organization model that explicitly adopts an integrative embrace of ecology, avoiding potential misunderstandings over the multiple levels of meaning and history associated with the term 'ecosystem research'. The LTER understaking is an ongoing re-balance of understandings generated by the multiple views afforded by the spectrum of reductionist to holistic, by the elements juxtapositioned with the whole.