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Biotic regulation, is it a theory or a hypothesis?
Answer to the question asked by Mr. Volozhin, visitor of our site, on February 22nd, 2007. Full text of the question see in the Russian version.
The existence of neutrino was predicted by W. Pauli in late twenties of the last century based on the restrictions imposed by the energy conservation law. More than twenty years later, neutrino was observed in the experiments set by F. Reines and C. Cowan. However, the existence of neutrino had not been a hypothesis prior to those experiments. On neutrino grounds the whole theory of weak interactions was built, which was brilliantly confirmed in numerous experiments and which predicted the results of many experiments made before those of Reines and Cowan. None of the specialists doubted the existence of neutrino, it had no alternative.
Theory is a formulation of the existing laws of nature. It should not contradict any empirical data. Within the limits of its applicability, theory is always unambigous, it explains all the available empirical data and predicts the results of future experiments. Theory can have a mathematical as well as a verbal formulation (e.g., the law of energy conservation).
Based on fundamental physical laws, the biotic regulation concept explains empirical evidence accumulated in different fields of science and allows one to make further predictions. The main statement of the biotic regulation concept is as follows. The life-compatible environment is physically unstable. Random coincidence of a huge number of independent characteristics making the Earth's environment suitable for life, is improbable. Therefore, the maintenance of life-compatible environment during the documented two billion years' of life existence is ensured by life itself. To do so, life itself must maintain a stable organization and counteract the spontaneous decay of its highly-ordered state.
The biotic regulation concept stems from the textbook "Ecology of man" (1984), where its principles were first formulated. The 1995 book gave its full (at that moment) overview and introduced the term "biotic regulation". In twelve years that passed since the 1995 book, many new results in different fields of science, from genetics and ecology to climatology, have been obtained, that can viewed as confirmed predictions of the biotic regulation concept.
The 1995 book presents a detailed consideration of the problem of stability of the global biogeochemical cycles. According to the available evidence, the gaseous composition of the atmosphere, in particular, the CO2 concentration, remained relatively constant over extensive periods of time, despite the action of the well-known independent geophysical and biological fluxes that could have reduced or increased this concentration by orders of magnitudes over time periods much shorter than the documented period of its relative constancy. The observed stability of life-compatible concentrations of the major biogens (including organic and inorganic carbon) can only be explained assuming the existence of their biotic control.
Within the biotic regulation framework it was shown that Earth's climate with a liquid hydrosphere is physically unstable. In the absence of a biotic control, the liquid hydrosphere of Earth would have completely evaporated or frozen over short periods of time of the order of a thousand years. This independent proof of the existence of biotic regulation was outlined in the 1995 book and developed in details in subsequent papers.
It was also shown that biotic regulation cannot be an occasional property that life is lucky to possess. On the contrary, all life organization is such that biotic regulation be possible. Biota and biota-compatible environment -- are the two sides of one and the same phenomenon called life.
In order to keep the favorable environment stable, it is necessary to have a program of how to do it. This program should be stable as well and contain information about the parameters of the favorable environment. This program in the biota is of genetic nature, i.e. it is written in nucleotide sequences of genomes of biological species. Thus, according to the biotic regulation concept, life must be organized in such a way as to maximize the stability of its genetic program. Based on this prediction, new results were obtained in the field of genetics, including the explanation of Haldane's rule for interspecific hybrids, the explanation of the observed levels of intraspecific genetic variabiity, quantitative estimates of the rates of evolutionary process, etc.
In 2006 new results were obtained that prove the decisive role of forests in the maintenance of optimal precipitation regime and soil moisture content on land. Based on fundamental physical laws it was shown that with the large evaporative surface of green leaves, which greatly exceeds the evaporative surface of ocean of the same area, the continental forest cover ensures pumping of atmospheric moisture to land from the ocean. It compensates the continous losses of liquid moisture to the gravitational river runoff. Forest pump of atmospheric moisture is a regional phenomenon. To become confident in its reality, there is no need of moving to another planet and watching therefrom what happens when this biotic regulation mechanism is destroyed on Earth. It is enough to travel to the deforested regions of Earth, where precipitation drops exponentially with distance from the ocean, and compare them with (still) forest-covered regions like Amazonia or Siberia, where precipitation remains constant or grows over several thousand kilometers inland. Water regime on land is fully dictated by forests. Elimination of forests leads to desertification.
Biotic regulation concept is unusual in that it both poses questions and answers them. There is no alternative explanations of life and environmental stability. However, the vital need of having such explanations for a comprehensive understanding of what is going on with the humanity and what future we can expect for ourselves, has not been realized by the scientific community. The problems of environmental stability are attempted to be solved on primitive and outdated conceptual grounds ("no pollution -- no problem"). It is implicitly assumed that in the absence of direct anthropogenic pollution environmental stability is something that goes without saying, something comparable to the stability of the gravitational field of the Earth.
The reader can decide for her/himself on the formal status of the biotic regulation concept. It is much more important that all the evidence suggests that people who consider themselves interested in securing a future for the humanity, can no longer neglect the dominant role of the natural biota in global environmental processes.
Key biotic regulation publication, arranged by topics, are presented here. Chapters of the 1995 book that are not here yet, will be posted soon. For an overview of biotic regulation concept (excluding genetics and biotic pump) see here. See here about biotic pump.