Landscape challenges to ecosystem thinking : Creative flood and drought in the American Southwest *

  • Fisher S
  • Welter J
  • Schade J
 et al. 
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Stream ecology is undergoing a transition from ecosystem to landscape science. This change is reflected in many studies; work at Sycamore Creek in Arizona will be used to illustrate the challenges of this transition and several applications. Conceptual challenges involve clear determination of the organization of research objectives. Ecosystem science is largely concerned with how things work while landscape ecology focuses on the influence of spatial pattern and heterogeneity on system functioning. Questions of system scale, hierarchical structure, dimensionality, and currency must be resolved in order to productively execute research objectives. The new stream ecology is more. integrative, more realistic spatially, deals with streams at a larger scale, and treats them as branched system more than former approaches. At Sycamore Creek, studies of sand bar patches and their influence on organisms and nutrient cycling illustrate how variations in patch shape, and configuration can alter system outputs. Beyond sandbars, inclusion of riparian zones as integral parts of streams produces a more coherent view of nutrient dynamics than previous studies that began at the water's edge. Integration of streams with the landscape they drain requires that streams be viewed as branched structures, not linear systems. This view in ecology is in its infancy but it provides an opportunity to identify processing hot spots along flow paths and to reveal presumptive effects of climate change in terms of spatial shifts in biogeochemical activity rather than black-box rate changes.

Author-supplied keywords

  • biogeochemistry
  • drought
  • ecosystem
  • flood
  • landscape
  • nitrogen
  • riparian
  • stream

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  • Stuart G Fisher

  • Jill Welter

  • John Schade

  • Julia Henry

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