Hi, I'm new to the forums here. I've done a fair bit of reading on the topic of permaculture, but haven't had a chance to take an official course or many opportunities to try to put the ideas into practice, (I'm a student living in an apartment in the city) so I'm a little short on specific knowledge.
Right now I'm working on an educational tool designed to help students study their local ecosystems in a more detailed an accurate way than by simply looking at food webs or talking about a few large species. This tool was inspired by my research into permaculture; I realized that the way I was taught biology and ecology in school encouraged me to look at ecological systems as primarily linear and predatory, while learning about permaculture showed me the wealth of cyclical and mutualist interactions that were never discussed. As part of making this tool, I need to construct a model of several ecosystems which contains in depth information on the interactions between their species. The problem I'm having is that this information has been terribly difficult to find; I'm currently staring at a three page list of species commonly occurring in American temperate deciduous forests with no real understanding of which are most important or representative of the ecosystem. I'm looking for resources that will give me information on natural ecosystems in terms of the relationships that exist between their species; i.e. which species provide food and habitats for each other, how each species' waste is used and recycled by other species, and which species and interspecies interactions are most responsible for the character and stability of the ecosystem as a whole. While I'm aware that this is not specifically a permaculture topic, the search for self-regulating systems in nature seems to me to be related to human methods of constructing these sorts of systems.
Can anyone point me in the right direction? Where should I look for this sort of information?
Go hiking a lot . I'm not sure where you would find such information recorded all together, but hiking can tell you a lot about plants and the role each fills in the ecosystem. Also, talking to people who have spent time in the woods should help as well. You will notice that certain species inhabit areas that were logged somewhat recently, with other species dominant in older forests. Pay attention to clearings and edges.
I'm kind of guessing such a complete resource doesn't yet exist. For information about some plants which might exist or be expected to exist under specific conditions in your locale, soil surveys might provide some help.
Thank you all for your help. I should have most of what I need now. Also, in case anyone asks a similar question in the future, I was shown this and found it very useful, even though it only focuses on the ecosystem roles of animals rather than plants: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/index.html