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This paper discusses the natural evolution of ecosystems in terms of the inter-relationships existing between the physical and biological components of the ecosystem. These natural processes may be greatly accelerated or hindered as a result of human activities. These effects can be determined experimentally using the enclosure method. This technique, which involves the isolation of representative segments of the ecosystem by means of plastic containers, is regarded as a compromise between field observations and simpler, but more artificial, laboratory experiments. It allows the use of experimental controls and replicates, whilst retaining many of the natural characteristics of the ecosystem. Four case studies from Lake Comabbio, Italy, illustrate the method. The effects of additions of copper, cadmium and aluminium and of acidification on parameters such as the population densities of indicator phytoplankton taxa are reported. The results of such studies are able to provide information on the effects of pollutants, not only on the targets themselves but also on the inter-relationships between them.

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Authors: RAVERA O, JRC, 21020 Ispra (VA) (IT)
Bibliographic Reference: Article: Ecological Assessment of Environmental Degradation, Pollution and Recovery, 1989, pp. 217-243
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