Geomorphology and ecology: Unifying themes for complex systems in biogeomorphology

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203 Scopus citations


The interaction of geomorphic and ecologic landscape components has been largely conceptualized as independent. In one direction, geomorphic processes and landforms shape the distribution of biota. Conversely, in the other direction, biota modify geomorphic processes and landforms. Increasingly, the interactions between geomorphic and ecological components are more circular and developmentally intertwined. In this paper, I integrate these two independent perspectives within the framework of complexity theory. I outline four themes that characterize complex systems in biogeomorphology: multiple causality and the concept of recursivity, the influence of organisms that function as ecosystem engineers, the expression of an ecological topology, and ecological memory. Implicit in all of these themes is the recognition that biogeomorphic systems are open and path dependent. They may exhibit a range of assembly states, from self-reinforcing stability domains to more transient configurations of organisms and environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-216
Number of pages10
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jul 30 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Ideas for this paper were developed from research funded by an NSF Geography and Regional Science Doctoral Dissertation Research Grant (No. 9811349). Michael Craghan, Martin Doyle, Kathy Parker, and Mike Urban provided helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.


  • Attractors
  • Biogeomorphology
  • Complexity
  • Ecosystem engineers
  • Multiple causality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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