Charles Elton nsIn science, Charles Elton (1900-1991) was an English zoologist noted for his 1926 energy-conceptualized food chain model.

Food chain
In 1926, Elton introduced the energy-based “food chain” model, a term he coined, as follows: [1]

“Animals are not always struggling for existence, but when they do begin, they spend the greater part of their lives eating. Feeding is such a universal and commonplace business that we are inclined to forget its importance. The primary driving force of all animals is the necessity of finding the right kind of food and enough of it. Food is the burning question in animal society, and the whole structure and activities of the community are dependent upon questions of food-supply. We are not concerned here with the various devices employed by animals to enable them to obtain their food, or with the physiological processes which enable them to utilize in their tissues the energy derived from it. It is sufficient to bear in mind that animals have to depend ultimately upon plants for their supplies of energy, since plants alone are able to turn raw sunlight and chemicals into a form edible to animals. Consequently herbivores are the basic class in animal society. Another difference between animals and plants is that while plants are all competing for much the same class of food, animals have the most varied diets, and there is a great divergence in their food habits. The herbivores are usually preyed upon by carnivores, which get the energy of the sunlight at third-hand, and these again may be preyed upon by other carnivores, and so on, until we reach an animal which has no enemies, and which forms, as it were, a terminus on this food-cycle. There are, in fact, chains of animals linked together by food, and all dependent in the long run upon plants. We refer to these as ‘food-chains’, and to all the food-chains in a community as the ‘food-cycle’.”

This simple outline, of course, is but a foray into the more advanced chemical thermodynamic energy coupling theory, developed by Fritz Lipmann in the 1940s.

Elton, in regards to his use of the term ‘energy’ in the context of food chains, seems to be occasionally misattributed as having used thermodynamics in his theories, which does not seem to be the case. In 1988, Americans Daniel Brooks and Edward Wiley, in their Evolution as Entropy, state the following: [2]

“Beginning with Lotka (1924) and Elton (1927), continuing with Lindeman (1942) through today—Ulanowicz (1986), Wicken (1987), etc.—ecological processes have been characterized fruitfully in thermodynamic terms.”

This, however, is misattribution: use of the word ‘energy’ in a book, such as by Elton, does not make one a thermodynamicist.

Driving force
In Elton's above food chain theory he asserts that the primary "driving force" of all animals is finding food. He even uses thermal words to define this as a "burning question" in animal society. Burning implies combustion: typically reaction of a hydrocarbon with oxygen The only sense in which combustion models come into play, in human affairs, are those in which reproduction is defined as a chemical reaction, as captured in the colloquial phrase love the chemical reaction: reaction of two human molecules to produce a third human molecule, wherein the heats of passions come into play.

In modern human society, where the work of two people produce the food of fifty, the term "burning question" does not tend to be associated with "finding food" but rather with deeper questions: general purpose of human existence, ethical questions, mate selection questions, among other paradoxical dilemmas—that tend to "burn" in the minds of thinkers for centuries on end. This perspective brings Elton's driving force theory into question? Is finding food the driving force of the paramecium? Is finding food the driving force of the hydrogen atom?

Moreover, Elton's general assertion does not corroborate with chemical thermodynamics, animate thermodynamics in particular, according to which animals are animate "molecules", e.g. bacteria molecule, fish molecule, human molecule, moving about and reacting on a surface, in liquid, or in air, in generally an isothermal isobaric systems, according to which the driving force is free energy, Gibbs free energy in particular, as defined in 1923 by Gilbert Lewis, whereby form change is the primary end result of the overall reaction process—hence, when free energy (and bound energy) considerations are applied to animals and or humans (as Sigmund Freud did) the sexual drive, for instance, becomes one of the more primary embodiments of the free energy drive of chemical thermodynamics, and food becomes a factor of substrate-molecule interactions (activation energy lowering factor) rather than a molecule-molecule interaction factor, as is the case as Lewis defines the chemical thermodynamic driving force, which, of course, has roots in the older affinity model of the driving force of physical-chemical change (see: Goethe-Helmholtz equation).

This confusion has been one of the main roadblocks to thermodynamic analysis of human and animal behavior in the last century: the misattribution of the main factors of thermodynamical quantifications of animal behaviors to the energy of food, whereas correctly the energy of the more powerful desires, such as of passions and hatreds are the more decisive energy and entropy factors. Study of the thermodynamics of the Haber process gives indication of the correct view of the thermodynamics of animal behaviors, wherein substrate-molecule interactions can be studied in terms of the iron-oxide surface interactions with the hydrogen molecules H2 and nitrogen molecules N2, in terms of its ability to facilitate, via catalysis, the reaction between the two molecules, the free energy itself being a factor of only the molecule-molecule interaction, not the molecule-surface interactions. [3]

1. Elton, Charles S. (1927). Animal Ecology (energy, 10+ pgs; food-chains, pg. 56). Sedgewick and Jackson.
2. Brooks, Daniel R. and Wilson, Edward O. (1988). Evolution as Entropy: Toward a Unified theory of Biology (pg. 31). University of Chicago Press.
3. (a) Thims, Libb. (2007). Human Chemistry (Volume One). Morrisville, NC: LuLu.
(b) Thims, Libb. (2007). Human Chemistry (Volume Two). Morrisville, NC: LuLu.

External links
‚óŹ Charles Sutherland Elton – Wikipedia.

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