Page 1 of 1

The Autopoietic Forest - Definition

Posted: Fri Nov 19, 2010 8:15 pm
by edfrank
Don Bertolette wrote:
Define "is"...
by Don ยป Fri Nov 19, 2010 7:59 pm

I for one am among those who are somewhat befuddled by the concept of (and spelling, as I look quickly at the topic name...;>) an autopoietic forest. Perhaps you have some boilerplate syllabus that you could lay on us to get us started, allow us to ask semi-intelligent questions?

Don Bertolette - Moderator, WNTS BBS
Restoration Forester (Retired)
Science Center, Grand Canyon National Park

View WNTS Webpage at:

Autopoietic Forest: The Autopoietic Forest is a forest that is self-creating, without any management. The collective genome of the forest continually evolves with the environment. All organisms fit as they develop adaptations to the habitat and niche in which they dwell. An Old Growth Forest would be a temporal snapshot in this autopoietic forest, the former being a holon within the latter. In contrast, a managed forest is controlled by one species from outside the system such that a normally complex, adaptive system becomes a very linear, static, and economically-driven system. (G. Beluzo, April 30, 2010)

In the Thread Defining Old Growth Gary Beluzo wrote: ... growth.htm August 30, 207
My thinking has been strongly influenced by Lynn Margulis who says that "natural systems" are those that are AUTOPOIETIC (ie. self- regulated and self-directed). In other words, an AUTOPOIETIC FOREST is one that is not being MANaged by humans but rather EMERGENT processes that result from the integration of all biotic and abiotic components of the forest. There are of course both internal and external disturbances that will influence the trajectory of both the autopoietic and managed forest but the key difference is in the influence by many species rather than the control by one. Humans have a tendency to simplified ecosystems so my definition of an old growth system would be a "forested system that has been autopoietic for some minimum time period. Autopoietic systems tend to have more complexity.

Folks like the 150-200 year criterion because it is easy to measure (i.e. incremental core) but there are at least several problems with

1) Different forest types are composed of different trees that have different longevities
2) After a major natural disturbance there may be NO trees left standing that are 150+ years old- do we rule this system out? If so, ALL of our old growth forests are but temporal snapshots of ever changing systems and if the Old Growth trees are gone then presumably the site would lose legal protection (and its visual appeal to some!)
3) Managed systems that have been allowed to return to an autopoietic state after say 150 to over 1000 years of continuous human disturbance do NOT necessarily show the original species or processes we call these systems "old growth"?

I guess it depends on whether you are interested in OLD TREES (regardless of past history) or NATURAL SYSTEMS (regardless of present tree ages). More to come...
"A natural system is ... "a complex autopoietic system is regulated internally; the sum total of all genomes present. This is not to imply anything teleological. Complex systems can spontaneously order without "purpose" and begin to show some characteristics of what we call "Life". A very simple example would be a hurricane. But, a better example would be what are called "dissipative structures", chemical reactions that maintain themselves as long as the reactants are available. So, natural systems are complex because there is no single cause and effect, no single causative pathway. In fact, the "control" is comprised of multiple positive and negative feedback loops that operate on "auto pilot" without consciousness. These systems have evolved over time through trail and error resulting in adaptations that WORK. Natural systems should NOT be managed because they are already a "perfect world" I believe that management is appropriate for anthropogenically disturbed/maintained systems. In this case, a single species has consciously altered a system and is managing it for utilitarian purposes. The natural trajectory has been altered; the system has been taken off "auto pilot" and is now evolving according to the desire/purpose of one species, one genome. The system is greatly simplified, particularly in the causative control of that system. It is linear, less resilience, less capacity to adapt."
Natural Forests: Autopoiesis or Sympoiesis? ... orests.htm
October 07, 2007