Thermodynamic stability of ecosystems

J Theor Biol. 2005 Dec 7;237(3):323-35. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2005.04.019. Epub 2005 Jun 22.


The stability of ecosystems during periods of stasis in their macro-evolutionary trajectory is studied from a non-equilibrium thermodynamic perspective. Individuals of the species are considered as units of entropy production and entropy exchange in an open thermodynamic system. Within the framework of the classical theory of irreversible thermodynamics, and under the condition of constant external constraints, such a system will naturally evolve toward a globally stable thermodynamic stationary state. It is thus suggested that the ecological steady state, or stasis, is a particular case of the thermodynamic stationary state, and that the evolution of community stability through natural selection is a manifestation of non-equilibrium thermodynamic directives. Furthermore, it is argued that punctuation of stasis leading to ecosystem succession, may be a manifestation of non-equilibrium "phase transitions" brought on by a change of external constraints through a thermodynamic critical point.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biomass
  • Ecosystem*
  • Entropy
  • Models, Biological
  • Population Dynamics
  • Thermodynamics*