Ecosystem biogeochemistry considered as a distributed metabolic network ordered by maximum entropy production. Academic Article uri icon


  • We examine the application of the maximum entropy production principle for describing ecosystem biogeochemistry. Since ecosystems can be functionally stable despite changes in species composition, we use a distributed metabolic network for describing biogeochemistry, which synthesizes generic biological structures that catalyse reaction pathways, but is otherwise organism independent. Allocation of biological structure and regulation of biogeochemical reactions is determined via solution of an optimal control problem in which entropy production is maximized. However, because synthesis of biological structures cannot occur if entropy production is maximized instantaneously, we propose that information stored within the metagenome allows biological systems to maximize entropy production when averaged over time. This differs from abiotic systems that maximize entropy production at a point in space-time, which we refer to as the steepest descent pathway. It is the spatio-temporal averaging that allows biological systems to outperform abiotic processes in entropy production, at least in many situations. A simulation of a methanotrophic system is used to demonstrate the approach. We conclude with a brief discussion on the implications of viewing ecosystems as self-organizing molecular machines that function to maximize entropy production at the ecosystem level of organization.

publication date

  • May 12, 2010