Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Ecological Energetics

Although the German biologist Ernst Haeckel is credited with being the first to use the term ecology (Haeckel, 1868), the science of ecology did not get underway until the turn of the twentieth century. Ecology has been defined as the study of the interrelationships between living organisms and their environment (Lincoln, Boxshall & Clark, 1982). Despite the obvious implications of ecology for understanding human biology and behaviour, anthropologists were attracted to this approach only in the I 920s, when the term 'human ecology' was first used by the geographer H. H. Barrows (1922). In this and subsequent formulations (Adams, 1935; Park, 1936; Hawley, 1950) there was lillIe attention paid to the causes and con~e￾quences of energy use, while adaptation was exprcssed in terms of social competition rather than biological function and Darwinian litness. 
The term 'ecosystem' was proposed by Tansley as a general term for the total complex of interacting organisms and their habitat. Through their interactions, the entire system is maintained (Tansley, 1946). Th~se interactions involve a relatively stable set orrclationships in which materml, information and energy are in continuous circulation. The American biologist Lindeman (1942) focussed on the fixation ofenergy in ecosystems and the quantitative relations that must exist between different users of energy as it is spread around various populations of organisms within an ecosystem. This work helped to consolidate ecology as a disc~pline and w.as a major influence on anthropologists interested in understandtng the relation￾ships betwecn human groups and their environments (Ellcn, 1982). 

Subsequently, the American anthropologist Julian Steward devcloped a theoretical framework, which he called cultural ecology (Steward, 1955), the first appropriation of ecological principles in anthropology. Stewart was convinced that the natural environment, through its effects on human subsistence behaviour, had a strong effect on the types of social and political structure which developed in s~cieties that .used .comparable natural habitats. He was concerned With the relationships between environment and productive technology, the patterns of behaviour in￾volved in resource acquisition through specilk technologies in particular areas and the extent to which behaviour patterns involved in such acquisition influence other aspects of human behaviour. However, the quantification of these relationships was not a major concern. 
Human ecologists have used a variety of approaches in their attempts to understand human group function and reproductive success. These have included: (I) demography; (2) the importance of culturc and ritual in subsistence-related decision making; (3) economic and exchange relation￾ships; and (4) energetics. . 

Demographic measurcs include vital statistics such as births and dc~ths at various stages or life, as well as fertility levels and in- and out-migration. I f the aim is to measure fitness, then dcmography must be considered in the context ofother factors, including food-getting ability, social stratification and economics, and knowledge and power. Anthropologists have exam￾ined the human ecology of ritual(Rappaport, 1968), warfare (Rappaport, 
1968; Ferguson, 1989), trade (Thomas, 1976), foraging strategies (Hill et al., 1984; 1985), and technological change (Bayliss-Smith, 1977). 

Although the exchange value of materials and the relationships that ensue from exchange and distribution have long been the concern of economic anthropology (Seymour-Smith, 1986), they can, at best, only give a partial understanding of human ecosystemic relationships. Similarly, the study of information control, exchange and use in relation to subsistence strategies can lead only to partial knowledge of ecosystemic regulation (Moran, 1982). One way in which the biological factors involved in ecosystemic regulation can be understood is in terms of energy exchanged, used, created and stored in various forms. Ecological energetics could not develop until practical problems of the measurement of energy, in its many forms, were resolved. 

Source; STANLEY J. ULIJASZEK, "Human energetics in biological anthropology"

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