The Balance of Nature and the Nature of Balance

Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, many theories, models, and applications in Earth and environmental sciences are based on the notion of a single, normative equilibrium state. These notions of, e.g., steady-state, dynamic or stable equilibria, climax forms, etc. are variations of some notion of “balance of nature”. This session, in addition to reviewing the evidence of nonequilibrium in environmental systems, will explore the persistence of normative equilibria concepts in both research and (especially) environmental management contexts, despite widespread realization that balance of nature notions only occasionally represent the actual behavior of environmental systems. Reasons for this persistence may include social or psychological predilections for balance or order; political or economic preferences for simple answers; emphases on equilibrium phenomena when both equilibrium and nonequilibrium behaviors and forms are evident; scale-dependence of (non) equilibria; and the apparently utility and relative simplicity of steady-state model assumptions.


This session invites papers that explore the implications of normative balance of nature notions in environmental systems and landscapes. Potential topics include:


•Contrasts between normative equilibrium assumptions and actual functions and behaviors in geomorphological, hydrological, pedological, ecological, and climate systems.


•Historical, geographical, scale, and situational contingency of (non)equilibrium in environmental systems.


•Explorations of management and policy implications of normative equilibrium viewpoints vs. alternative conceptual frameworks.


•Persistence of balance-of-nature perspectives in Earth and environmental sciences, and environmental management and policy.


•Practical alternatives to normative equilibrium notions in applied environmental science, management, and policy.


Please submit a presentation proposal­ including a title, and abstract of no more than 300 words ­to the session organizers: Daehyun Kim (, or Jonathan Phillips ( by no later than November 20th, 2016. Please feel free to also direct inquiries to any of the organizers.

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