General equilibrium of an ecosystem

J Theor Biol. 2000 Mar 7;203(1):13-32. doi: 10.1006/jtbi.1999.1058.


Ecosystems and economies are inextricably linked: ecosystem models and economic models are not linked. Consequently, using either type of model to design policies for preserving ecosystems or improving economic performance omits important information. Improved policies would follow from a model that links the systems and accounts for the mutual feedbacks by recognizing how key ecosystem variables influence key economic variables, and vice versa. Because general equilibrium economic models already are widely used for policy making, the approach used here is to develop a general equilibrium ecosystem model which captures salient biological functions and which can be integrated with extant economic models. In the ecosystem model, each organism is assumed to be a net energy maximizer that must exert energy to capture biomass from other organisms. The exerted energies are the "prices" that are paid to biomass, and each organism takes the prices as signals over which it has no control. The maximization problem yields the organism's demand for and supply of biomass to other organisms as functions of the prices. The demands and supplies for each biomass are aggregated over all organisms in each species which establishes biomass markets wherein biomass prices are determined. A short-run equilibrium is established when all organisms are maximizing and demand equals supply in every biomass market. If a species exhibits positive (negative) net energy in equilibrium, its population increases (decreases) and a new equilibrium follows. The demand and supply forces in the biomass markets drive each species toward zero stored energy and a long-run equilibrium. Population adjustments are not based on typical Lotka-Volterra differential equations in which one entire population adjusts to another entire population thereby masking organism behavior; instead, individual organism behavior is central to population adjustments. Numerical simulations use a marine food web in Alaska to illustrate the model and to show several simultaneous predator/prey relationships, prey switching by the top predator, and energy flows through the web.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Food Chain
  • Humans
  • Models, Economic*
  • Population Dynamics