Ecosystem and Landscapes - A Critical Comparative Appraisal
Ecosystems and landscapes are the two major spatial units for ecological research and practice, but their definitions and meanings are vague and ambiguous. Examining critically the meaning and complexity of both terms from a holistic landscape ecological systems view, the confusing applications of the ecosystem concept could be avoided by conceiving ecosystems as functional interacting systems, characterized for the flow of energy, matter and information between organisms and their abiotic environment. As functional systems they are intangible with vaguely defined borders. On the other hand, landscapes should be recognized as tangible, spatially and temporally well defined ecological systems of closely interwoven natural and cultural entities of the Total Human Ecosystem. Ranging from the smallest discernable landscape cell or ecotope to the global ecosphere, they serve as the spatial and functional matrix and living space for all organisms, including humans, their populations and their ecosystems. Both are medium-numbered complex ecological systems. However, the organized complexity of ecosystems is based solely on the monodimensional complexity of material processes of flow of energy/matter and biophysical information. But the organized complexity of landscapes is multidimensional and multifunctional, dealing not only with the functional dimensions of natural bio-ecological processes and the natural biophysical information, but also with the cognitive mental and perceptual dimensions, transmitted by cultural information and expressed in the closely interwoven natural and cultural landscape.