A thermodynamic perspective on food webs: Quantifying entropy production within detrital-based ecosystems

F.J.R. Meysman, S. Bruers

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    Because ecosystems fit so nicely the framework of a “dissipative system”, a better integration of thermodynamic and ecological perspectives could benefit the quantitative analysis of ecosystems. One obstacle is that traditional food web models are solely based upon the principles of mass and energy conservation, while the theory of non-equilibrium thermodynamics principally focuses on the concept of entropy. To properly cast classical food web models within a thermodynamic framework, one requires a proper quantification of the entropy production that accompanies resource processing of the food web. Here we present such a procedure, which emphasizes a rigorous definition of thermodynamic concepts (e.g. thermodynamic gradient, disequilibrium distance, entropy production, physical environment) and their correct translation into ecological terms. Our analysis provides a generic way to assess the thermodynamic operation of a food web: all information on resource processing is condensed into a single resource processing constant. By varying this constant, one can investigate the range of possible food web behavior within a given fixed physical environment. To illustrate the concepts and methods, we apply our analysis to a very simple example ecosystem: the detrital-based food web of marine sediments. We examine whether entropy production maximization has any ecological relevance in terms of food web functioning.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)124-139
    JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2007


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