Brian Fath


Sustainability of Complex Systems: Insights from Ecological Dynamics – PDF

Author: Brian Fath

Towson University

Sustainability is an important concept, currently at the forefront of many policy agendas. Yet, the science of sustainability is still inchoate: What does it means for a system to be sustainable? What are the features of sustainable systems and how can they be quantified? Systems ecology is built on Bertalanffy’s premise that organisms, like all complex adaptive systems, are self-organized and interactive. This shifted our perspective from a linear mechanism to models that required a broader, holistic orientation in order to understand fully the dynamics involved. These complex systems operate by maintaining functional gradients away from equilibrium. While there are basic requirements regarding availability of input and output boundary flows and sinks, sustainability is centrally a feature of system configuration. A system must provide a basis of positionally balancing, wholeness-enhancing centers of activity. In this presentation, I provide an overview of concepts and methods developed in ecosystem theory to describe the structure and function of these self-sustaining autocatalytic configurations, and extend the methods to applications in economic and socio-economic systems.


Brian D. Fath is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Towson University, USA, where he teaches courses in ecosystem ecology, environmental biology, networks, and human ecology and sustainability. He has also travelled internationally to teach courses on ecological networks and modeling worldwide.

Fath is also a researcher in the Advanced Systems Analysis Program at IIASA and scientific coordinator of the institute’s Young Scientists Summer Program. He has published over 130 research papers, reports, and book chapters, and coauthored the books “Flourishing within Limits to Growth: Following Nature’s Way”, “A New Ecology: Systems Perspective Ecological Modelling”, and the “Encyclopedia of Ecology.”

He currently serves as editor-in-chief for the journal Ecological Modelling and is president of the North American Chapter of the International Society for Ecological Modelling. In 2012 he held a Fulbright distinguished chair position at the Parthenope University of Naples, Italy.

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