Heineken Lectures 2004

The Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences

Levin, Simon A.

2005 | 31 pages | ISBN 90-6984-437-0 | free

Heineken Lecture by Professor Simon A. Levin, winner of The Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences 2004.

Ecosystems and the biosphere are complex adaptive systems, in which macroscopic features, such as robustness, emerge to large extent from processes at lower scales of organization. A fundamental challenge, then, is to relate processes and patterns occurring at diverse scales of space, time and organizational complexity. What maintains the macroscopic patterns of the biosphere, such as the availability and cycling of limiting nutrients, and the distributions and abundances of species? How do these regularities emerge at the level of the ecosystems and the biosphere, given that evolution in these is mediated largely at much smaller scales of organization?

How are the responses and actions of individual plants and animals translated into phenomena at higher levels of organization, and how do these phenomena feed back to influence the fates of individuals? How do complex networks of interaction, involving the interplay of competition, exploitation and cooperation, arise, and what are the implications for the robustness of these systems in the face of anthropogenic disturbance? This lecture will explore these issues, and conclude by investigating what lessons can be drawn from the evolution of natural systems about cooperation in human societies, the evolution of social norms and institutions, and the management of resources in a global commons.