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Understanding the functional principles of nature—Proposing another type of ecosystem services


  • Nielsen, S.N.
  • Müller, F.


Ecosystem services are usually interpreted as a free of charge “favour” provided to us and our society by nature. In other words, nature supplies us with a functionality that we would otherwise have to pay for. Our cost would be to provide resources either (1) to ensure the necessary inputs to drive our society, or (2) to assist in counteracting, absorbing or remediating unwanted effects that are results of our societal activities. Through ecosystem studies it has been found that a substantial part of the functionality of nature is laid out in all types of components—the compartments of the ecosystems together with the transactional interrelations (flows) and controls between them. Eventually, many so-called indicators have been proposed during the last decades. Such measures are dedicated to tell us about the quality side of ecosystem functionality, e.g. to tell us how well the system performs relatively to a theoretical maximum efficiency possible. As an additional hypothesis, such functions are thought to orient the systems and thus increase through time development, i.e. to be optimised under the given the constraints, through the evolution of the system. Recently is has been pointed out that natural and societal systems share the feature of being complex in their organisation. Meanwhile, it was remarked that societal systems in many ways evolved in opposite direction of how natural evolution would drive an ecosystem. Many philosophers of biology have stated that biological systems posses information and memory functions which improve their long-term capability to survive. This information is believed to be contained in the organisational structures of the system as much as in its gene pool. If we accept such arguments it means that studies of organisation and function of natural systems will provide us with another type of ecosystem services. This would namely give us information about in what direction to drive society in order to achieve a more sustainable system.

Suggested Citation

  • Nielsen, S.N. & Müller, F., 2009. "Understanding the functional principles of nature—Proposing another type of ecosystem services," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 220(16), pages 1913-1925.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecomod:v:220:y:2009:i:16:p:1913-1925
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2009.04.022

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Vihervaara, Petteri & Franzese, Pier Paolo & Buonocore, Elvira, 2019. "Information, energy, and eco-exergy as indicators of ecosystem complexity," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 395(C), pages 23-27.
    2. Nielsen, Søren Nors, 2016. "Second order cybernetics and semiotics in ecological systems—Where complexity really begins," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 319(C), pages 119-129.
    3. Ooba, Makoto & Wang, Qinxue & Murakami, Shogo & Kohata, Kunio, 2010. "Biogeochemical model (BGC-ES) and its basin-level application for evaluating ecosystem services under forest management practices," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 221(16), pages 1979-1994.


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