Ecological Thermodynamics

Ecological Thermodynamics - The most basic principle of...

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Ecological Thermodynamics All living systems depend on an adequate supply of energy and materials to support life- sustaining processes Therefore, all living systems are subject to the laws of thermodynamics, which (colloquially stated) are: (1) energy cannot be created or destroyed; (2) all work & growth requires energy; (3) increased order (growth, complexity) in one part of a system entails increased disorder (entropy) in another part For most analyses in ecological anthro, we can take physical laws (including those of thermodynamics) as constants, and thus ignore their causal/explanatory role However, it is useful to have at least a basic understanding of the physical constraints on ecological processes Thermodynamics is also relevant to this course because (as discussed further below) some anthropologists have argued that energy capture is central to cultural evolution
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Unformatted text preview: The most basic principle of ecological thermodynamics is that while materials cycle in ecosystems, energy flows through them Energy that powers life begins in the sun; even fossil fuels, wind, fire, & hydropower (and the electricity derived from these) are transformed solar energy (only nuclear and geothermal energy are exceptions) At the other end, the energy flowing through living things is ultimately lost as heat (from movement, metabolism, and decomposition) and radiates back out into the cold depths of space By contrast, while nutrients do ultimately derive from solar bodies (exploded stars & cosmic dust), once they enter the biosphere they circulate almost endlessly; our bodies contain bits of "stardust" (carbon, oxygen, etc.) that may have been part of Australopithecus and Leonardo da Vinci, not to mention countless plants, earthworms & bacteria...
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This note was uploaded on 11/22/2011 for the course ANT ANT2000 taught by Professor Monicaoyola during the Fall '10 term at Broward College.

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