Over the last nine pages we have been looking at a number of individual, but not independent, components of permaculture design. These were mostly components from the world of nature. In the real world, all of the pieces, including humans, work together to form a total, interrelated environment. Ecology is the study of these 'total' landscapes or ecosystems.

The Elmwood Institute in California has published a list of Principles of Ecology that are pertinent to permaculture design. These are supplemented by quotes from the paper Great Ideas in Ecology by Eugene Odum found in BioScience, 42:7, 1992.


All members of an ecosystem are interconnected in a web of relationships in which all life processes depend on one another. The success of the whole system depends on the success of its individual members, while the success of each member depends upon the success of the system as a whole.


The long-term survival (sustainability) of each species in an ecosystem depends on a limited resource base. Each species has its niche, or place, in the overall structure using a limited segment of the food web and a portion of the space available for nesting sites and raising of young.

Ecological Cycles

The interdependence among the members of an ecosystem involves the exchange of matter and energy in continual cycles. These ecological cycles act as feedback loops. The waste products of one group may become the food source for another.

Energy Flow

Solar energy, transformed into chemical energy by the photosynthesis of green plants, drives all ecological cycles. Energy is not lost, but it is transformed as it moves through the system. "As communities become larger they require more of the available energy for maintenance." (Odum)


All living members of an ecosystem are engaged in a subtle interplay of competition and cooperation, involving countless forms of partnership. There are "two aspects to the struggle for existence: organism versus organism, which leads to competition, and organism versus environment, which leads to mutualism." (Odum)


In their function as feedback loops, ecological cycles have the tendency to maintain themselves in a flexible state, characterized by interdependent fluctuations of their variables. "Short-term interactions ... tend to be oscillatory or cyclic; ... large, complex systems ... tend to go from randomness to order and will tend to have more steady-state characteristics." (Odum)


The stability of an ecosystem depends crucially on the degree of complexity of its network of relationships; in other words, on the diversity of the ecosystem. "The focus on preserving biodiversity must be at the landscape level, because the variety of species in any region depends on the size, variety and dynamics of patches (ecosystems) and corridors." (Odum)


Most species in an ecosystem coevolve through an interplay of creation and mutual adaptation. The creative reaching out into novelty is a fundamental property of life, manifest also in the processes of development and learning.