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Doklady Biological Sciences, Vol. 383, 2002, pp. 141–143. Translated from Doklady Akademii Nauk, Vol.

383, No. 4, 2002, pp. 571–573.

Original Russian Text Copyright © 2002 by Ostroumov.


New Definitions of the Concepts and Terms Ecosystem

and Biogeocenosis
S. A. Ostroumov
Presented by Academician L.M. Sushchenya November 14, 2001

Received December 6, 2001

The terms ecosystem and biogeocenosis were tions (abundance) of individual species; interspecies
coined by Tansley in 1935 [1] and by Sukachev in the relationships; activity of organisms; physical and
1940s [2], respectively. These terms are widely used in chemical characteristics of environment; flows of mat-
biological research [3–10], and there are several defini- ter, energy, and information; and description of changes
tions of the term ecosystem [4–8]. However, a large of these parameters with time.
body of new biological information has been accumu-
lated since the time of introduction of these terms. This definition does not contain terms such as
Therefore, a revision of the currently accepted concepts trophic structure, trophic levels, biocenosis, biotope,
of natural objects and interpretation of basic ecological community, components, systems, and succession.
terms (e.g., ecosystem and biogeocenosis) may be pro- Because this definition is applicable to both aquatic and
posed. It seems reasonable to continue the search for terrestrial ecosystems, as well as to natural or model
new variants of definitions of these terms. systems of various ranges and degrees of complexity, it
seems to be quite universal. Specific features of this
The goal of this work was to contribute to this definition and their substantiation are briefly summa-
search by suggesting and substantiating specific defini- rized in Table 1.
tions of two basic ecological terms. I certainly realize
that this problem is very complex and its exhaustive The term biogeocenosis, suggested in the early
solution is practically unattainable, because it is impos- 1940s by Sukachev [2], has gained wide recognition [7,
sible to find an ideal definition that would be adequate 8]. This term is widely used in ecological research. The
to all imaginable situations or satisfy all experts. Nev- classical definition given by Sukachev is cited in many
ertheless, it is worth trying to propose modern variants manuals and textbooks. However, a large body of new
of refined definitions capable of taking into account ecological information accumulated since the time of
large volumes of new information concerning aquatic introduction of the term makes it reasonable to consider
[6, 11–15] and terrestrial [7, 9, 10, 14] ecosystems. new variants of the definition. These definitions should
take into account both recent progress in biological
Sometimes, the terms used in the definition require research and specific features of the current practice of
additional explanation themselves (e.g., trophic struc- the use of this term. For example, many researchers
ture, biocenosis, community, etc.) [3]. For example, apply this term to aquatic ecosystems. To be applicable
according to a typical definition, ecosystem is a biolog- to aquatic ecosystems, the original definition of this
ical community together with its physical environment term should be revised. According to the modern taxo-
(see p. 679 in [5]). However, this definition by no nomic system, fungi are excluded from the plant king-
means reflects the whole body of experimental findings dom. New findings show that the information flow
and theoretical concepts accumulated in ecology dur- plays a significant role in the organization of superor-
ing the past decades. Given the remarks made above in ganism structures [9, 14]. Based on a modified defini-
this work, the following variant of definition can be tion of V.N. Sukachev, the following definition of bio-
suggested: geocenosis can be suggested:
Ecosystem is the complex of interconnected living
organisms inhabiting particular area or unit of space, Biogeocenosis is an aggregate of natural compo-
together with their environment and all their interrela- nents (atmosphere, rocks, plants, animals, representa-
tionships and relationships with the environment. Eco- tives of microorganisms and fungi, soil and hydrologi-
system is characterized by the description of popula- cal conditions, and bottom sediments in the case of
aquatic systems) in a particular area of land or water.
Biogeocenosis is characterized by specific relation-
ships between components; specific types of matter,
Moscow State University, Vorob’evy gory, Moscow, energy, and information flows providing a certain
119899 Russia degree of integrity (unity of components, indivisibility)

00141$27.00 © 2002 MAIK “Nauka /Interperiodica”


Table 1. Specific features of the definition of ecosystem proposed in this work

Examples and comment

No. Specific feature of the definition Brief substantiation
on the preceding column

1 Indication that “living organisms The universality of the definition is Biological organisms may inhabit a conside-
inhabit a particular area or unit of increased to include situations with rable fraction (in terms of size and environmen-
space” aquatic and soil systems in which tal diversity) of the system volume in the bulk
organisms inhabit the bulk of the of the water [6] and the bulk of the soil [10]
water or the bulk of the soil

2 Direct indication to the ecosystem The definition is more plain and The following characteristics have been shown
characteristics that are important specific; the importance of biolo- to be necessary: abundance of individual spe-
for its description gical and nonbiological (physical cies, interrelationships between them [4, 7, 8],
and chemical) characteristics of the specific physical and chemical environmental
system is emphasized parameters [6, 10], seasonal and succession
changes and their dynamics with time

3 Activity of organisms is put on The importance of the physiological Type and functions of ecosystem are mainly
the list of ecosystem characteris- activity of organisms (e.g., the rate of determined by its productivity [5], which
tics required for its description photosynthesis, primary productivity, depends on the physiological activity of
community respiration rate, rate of organisms. The rate of water filtration by
water filtration by hydrobionts, etc.) hydrobionts is important to maintain the
water quality in aquatic ecosystems at a
sufficiently high level [11, 15]

4 Flows of matter and energy have The essence of the processes of matter Transfer of pollutants (including radionu-
been introduced instead of the and energy transfer is defined more clides) along the trophic chain is unidirec-
terms “turnover of matter and accurately; because some of these pro- tional [13]. Transfer of matter and some
energy” or “exchange of matter cesses are unidirectional, the term flow chemical elements (C, N, P, Si, Al)
and energy between system is more correct than the term exchange by pellets settling in water [12] is also an
components” example of unidirectional transfer (along
the vector of gravity force)

5 Flows of information have been Flows of information are important to There are many examples of information
introduced in addition to flows provide contact between organisms, transfer by pheromones [9], attractants,
of matter and energy regulation of their interaction in the deterrents, and other ecologically important
ecosystem, and ecosystem stability substances produced by organisms [14]

and their changes with time. Organisms usually con- sible (“a certain degree of integrity” has been
tribute to environment formation or modification. included).
Specific features of the new definition and its com- (5) It is noted that biogeocenoses tend to change
parison with the classical Sukachev’s definition [2] are with time.
briefly described in Table 2. The following specific fea-
tures of the variant should be emphasized. I realize that the variant of definition suggested in
this work is far from ideal. In many cases other variants
(1) Taking into consideration the modern concept of of definition of the term ecosystem are more useful [3–
natural systems called biogeocenoses, the words about 8]. I hope that the use and discussion of different vari-
water surface; fungi; and flows of matter, energy, and ants will promote further progress in the development
information have been added; a new conclusion was of the definitions of these basic terms. The evolution of
added. the terms inevitably occurs as new ecological data, are
(2) The word “uniformity” is omitted (in the defini- accumulated.
tion by Sukachev it was used in the context of uniform
natural phenomena); the word “exchange” (in the con-
text of energy and matter exchange) has been replaced ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
by “flows”; the last part of the definition has been omit- I am grateful to V.D Fedorov, G.V. Dobrovol’skii,
ted (replaced by a new variant discussed above). E.A. Kriksunov, V.L. Kontrimavichus, V.N. Maksimov,
(3) It has been noted that living organisms usually A.S. Vladychenskii, A.P. Melikyan and many other col-
contribute to environment formation or modification. leagues from Moscow State University and Russian
(4) The problem of unity of the system’s compo- Academy of Sciences for stimulating discussion of
nents is considered as adequately and carefully as pos- general ecological problems. I am also grateful to Aca-



Table 2. Specific features of the definition of biogeocenosis proposed in this work (see the text)
Difference from the classical The universality of the definition and its
definition by Sukachev (1972) [2] applicability to aquatic systems is emphasized
1 “Land and water surface” is used instead of “land The universality of the definition and its applicability to aquatic
surface” systems is emphasized
2 The term “uniform phenomena” is omitted Studies performed in the past decades gave many examples of
heterogeneity of some parameters (temperature, illuminance, etc.)
and variability of these parameters within the biogeocenosis.
Synusias and consortiums are other examples of heterogeneity [8]
3 Fungi are added to the list of biotic components Fungi were previously assigned to plants; however, according to the
modern taxonomic system, they are excluded from the plant kingdom
4 Bottom sediments are added to the list of The universality of the definition and its applicability to aquatic
biogeocenosis components systems is emphasized
5 The word “exchange” in the expression “exchange of This substitution is required to provide higher accuracy, because, in
matter and energy” is replaced by the word “flows” many cases, unidirectional flows rather than bidirectional exchange
take place
6 The word “information” is added to the expression Studies performed in the past decades gave many examples of the
“flows of matter and energy” important role of information transfer in the processes of formation
of multiple connections and interactions between the components
of biogeocenoses [8, 9, 14]
7 It is noted that living organisms usually contribute It is emphasized that living organisms are involved in environment
to environment formation or modification formation and modification. The examples of this involvement have
been presented by many authors in studies on terrestrial (soil) [10]
and aquatic [11, 15] systems
8 The last part of the definition is omitted and re- More specific expressions are used; the possibility of changes with
placed by a new variant time is emphasized. Specific features of community dynamics (re-
versible and irreversible changes, including seasonal and circadian
rhythms, fluctuations, successions, etc.) were extensively discussed
in ecological literature [2–5, 7, 8]

demician L.M. Sushchenya for reviewing the manu- Structure of Modern Ecology), Samara: Samarskii
script, to V.L. Kas’yanov, V.N. Pavlov, and A.I. Azovskii Nauchnyi Tsentr RAN, 1999.
for valuable criticism of the preliminary version of the 9. Isaev, A.S. and Girs, G.I., Vzaimodeistvie dereva i
manuscript, and to Dr. Peter J. Wangersky for useful nasekomykh-ksilofagov (Interaction between the Tree
advise. and Xylophagous Insect), Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1975.
This study was supported by IBG. 10. Dobrovol’skii, G.V. and Nikitin, E.D., Sokhranenie
pochv kak nezamenimogo komponenta biosfery (Conser-
vation of Soils As an Indispensable Component of the
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