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The framework proposed here provides new directions for research

linking complex patterns, processes, and functions in coupled human ecological


Figure 3.1a. Conceptual model of functions, processes, and patterns.

A new integrated framework is needed to explore interactions between
human and ecological patterns and processes in coupled urban systems
(Figure 3.5). Scholars of both urban economics and urban ecology have
begun to recognize the importance of explicitly representing finer-scale
feedback mechanisms in their studies of urban regions (Grimm et al. 2000, Alberti and Waddell
2000, Pickett et al. 2001). Humans are the dominant
driving force in urbanizing regions, and changes in ecological conditions
also control human decisions. Furthermore, these interactions are spatially
determined. The evolution of land use and its ecological impacts are
a function of the spatial patterns of human activities and natural habitats,
which affect both socioeconomic and ecological processes at various scales.
For example, land-use decisions are highly influenced by patterns of land
use (e.g., housing densities), infrastructure (e.g., accessibility), and land
cover (e.g., green areas). These local interactions affect the composition
and dynamics of entire metropolitan regions.

In ecology, ecosystem function is the ability of Earth’s processes to

sustain life over a long period of time. Biodiversity is essential for the
functioning and sustainability of an ecosystem. Different species play
specific functional roles, and changes in species composition, species
richness, and functional type affect the efficiency with which resources are processed within an
ecosystem. Thus, the loss of species will impair the
biogeochemical functioning of an ecosystem. Furthermore, the distribution,
abundance, and dynamic interactions of species can be good indicators
of ecosystem condition. Often the disappearance of a species precedes
changes in ecosystem function and overall health (Rapport et al. 1985).
There are a variety of possible species functional types and measures of
ecosystem function (i.e., energy flow, nutrient cycles, productivity, species
interactions) to target for assessing system health. Biodiversity is generally
considered a good indicator of ecosystem function. Another indicator is net
primary production (NPP), which determines the amount of sunlight energy
that is fixed by the processes of photosynthesis to support life on Earth.
The concept of ecosystem function has evolved over time to include the
interactions between a system’s structure and functions and its spatial
systems are no longer considered as closed, self-regulating entities, which
at their mature stage reach an equilibrium. Instead they are recognized as