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Entropy and the conceit of biodiversity management

Tait, Morgan, Larson, Brendon M. H.
Global ecology and biogeography 2018 v.27 no.6 pp. 642-646
biodiversity, biogeography, biologists, ecologists, ecosystems, energy, entropy, globalization, international trade, invasive species, issues and policy, mixing
Many conservation biologists and ecologists consider invasive species to be one of the greatest threats to biodiversity because their spread across biogeographical boundaries may endanger unique and localized expressions of biodiversity (whether species or communities). Consequently, they imagine a future, the ‘Homogocene’, in which a small set of species dominates ecosystems around the world, and they promote policies and practices to lessen the spread of these species. Here, we consider some thermodynamic dimensions of the efforts to maintain current biogeographical boundaries. We wish to explore an important conceptual analogy between thermodynamically‐closed systems and isolated biogeographical regions in ecology. The conceptual tools developed in the context of thermodynamic systems can be shown to have relevance in a wide variety of systems contexts. The ‘Maxwell's demon’ thought experiment suggests that entropy is best thought of as information‐relative rather than a ‘law of nature’. Adopting this Maxwellian thermodynamic approach to managing complexity can shed new light on the challenges of biodiversity management. To prevent the dispersion of invasive species, people must invest energy on a scale to counteract global trade and concomitant dispersal of species. We show that removing barriers to species interaction through globalization is akin to allowing a previously isolated thermal system to interact with its environment; in both cases, the system will tend towards mixing or ‘equilibrium’, and fighting this tendency is costly. Unless social and economic integration declines, the energetic input required to lessen the spread of invasive species will continue to grow.