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56.4: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Stability

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    An ecosystem is said to possess ecological stability (or equilibrium) if it is capable of returning to its equilibrium state after a perturbation (a capacity known as resilience) or does not experience unexpected large changes in its characteristics across time. Although the terms community stability and ecological stability are sometimes used interchangeably, community stability refers only to the characteristics of communities. It is possible for an ecosystem or a community to be stable in some of their properties and unstable in others.

    The relation between diversity and stability has been widely studied. Diversity can operate to enhance the stability of ecosystem functions at various ecological scales. For example, genetic diversity can enhance resistance to environmental perturbations. At the community level, the structure of food webs can affect stability. At the level of landscapes, environmental heterogeneity across locations has been shown to increase the stability of ecosystem functions

    Resistance and Resilience

    Resistance is the ability for an ecosystem to remain unchanged when being subjected to a disturbance or disturbances. Some ecosystems are better at resisting change than others, and therefore have high resistance.

    Resilience is the ability and rate of an ecosystem to recover from a disturbance and return to its pre-disturbed state. Some ecosystems can shift greatly from their previous state and still return to pre-disturbance conditions. The measure for how far an ecosystem can be shifted from its previous state and still return to normal is called its amplitude.

    Both resistance and resilience are components of determining ecosystem stability. Both can also occur at the community, population, and individual level. An ecosystem can have high resistance to disturbance, but low resilience, and vice versa. Low resistance can sometimes be advantageous, such as in ecosystems that rely on natural disturbances to temporarily change their conditions in order to remain stable over the long term.

    This page titled 56.4: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Stability is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Sara Kappus (Open Educational Resource Initiative at Evergreen Valley College) .

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