SCIENTISTS at the Letham-based Biosphere Research Institute have released their findings on how ecosystems, the lifeblood of the planet, work.
In a paper to be published in leading scientific journal ‘Ecological Modelling Volume 250: 287-293’ early next month, Dr Keith Skene and his team of scientists from across Europe explain the inner workings of the globe.
Recently, it has been acknowledged that everything from atmospheric circulation to earthquakes and from linguistics to macroeconomics follows the same pattern, called the maximum entropy production principle (MEPP).
The MEPP states that these systems have the tendency to do something extraordinary - they convert useful energy into less useful energy, meaning that less and less useful energy is available. So the universe is gradually becoming more and more “tired”, and less capable of doing anything. Eventually it will reach a state called equilibrium, which basically means it is so tired that it falls asleep.
We are told that life itself follows this same principle. Whether it is a forest, a lake or Mediterranean shrub land, the driving force that leads to change is the same: a journey towards a common destination, and shared by many other systems.
The paper presents a single equation that represents this universal process.
Dr Keith Skene, lead investigator and director of the Biosphere Research Institute, said: “What we have uncovered is an equation that represents a unified theory of Biology.
“It unlocks our understanding of the natural world, and points towards thermodynamics as the directional arrow, the driving force of the Biosphere.
“Life, in effect, is one giant chaos maker.”
Not only does the paper explain why sand dunes eventually become forests it also accounts for why we have to weed our gardens.
Dr Skene explained: “Your garden is just like a sand dune - it wants to become a forest. The processes driving the arrival of weeds, which we attempt to hold back as gardeners, are driven by universal laws of thermodynamics.
“So we are really acting like King Canute, except that rather than trying to hold back the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun, it’s the fundamental set of universal laws of thermodynamics that we lock horns with!”
In a similar way that gases diffuse into space, driven towards a state of even spread, the same forces drive ecosystems to generate more and more entropy.
The way that they do this is by becoming more and more complex. Thanks to the sun, energy flows through the biosphere, and the more energy that flows through it, the more entropy or “tiredness” is generated.
This demand for more and more entropy by the universe has led to increasing complexity through time (evolution). The more complex an organism is, the more entropy it produces, and the more energy it requires. So a demand for chaos at the universe level drives increasing complexity on our planet.
However, this work goes far beyond ecosystems.
Dr Skene said: “The equation provides a basis for understanding human behaviour and its repercussions upon the biosphere, explaining population dynamics and evolution itself.
“Life cannot fall under the tutelage of the laws of thermodynamics for only some of its activities. Rather, all aspects, both temporally and spatially must emerge from the conversation between matter, energy and thermodynamics.
“This will demand a re-consideration of how life evolved and how our activities impact upon this energetic relationship.”