The Reynolds transport theorem: Application to ecological compartment modeling and case study of ecosystem energetics

J. R. Schramski, B. C. Patten, C. Kazanci, D. K. Gattie, N. N. Kellam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The Reynolds transport theorem (RTT) from mathematics and engineering has a rich history of success in mass transport dynamics and traditional thermodynamics. This paper introduces RTT as a complementary approach to traditional compartmental methods used in ecological modeling and network analysis. A universal system equation for a generic flow quantity is developed into a generic open-system differential expression for conservation of energy. Nonadiabatic systems are defined and incorporated into control volume (CV) and control surface (CS) perspectives of RTT where reductive assumptions in empirical data are then formally introduced, reviewed, and appropriately implemented. Compartment models are abstract, time-dependent systems of simultaneous differential equations describing storage and flow of conservative quantities between interconnected entities (the compartments). As such, they represent a set of flexible and somewhat informal, assumptions, definitions, algebraic manipulations, and graphical depictions subject to influence and selectively parsed expression by the modeler. In comparison, RTT compartment models are more rigorous and formal integro-differential equations and graphics initiated by the RTT universal system equation, forcing an ordered identification of simplifying assumptions, ending with clearly identified depictions of the transfer and transport of conservative substances in physical space and time. They are less abstract in the rigor of their equation development leaving less ambiguity to modeler discretion. They achieve greater consistency with other RTT compartment style models while possibly generating greater conformity with physical reality. Characteristics of the RTT approach are compared with those of a traditional compartment model of energy flow in an intertidal oyster-reef community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3225-3232
Number of pages8
JournalEcological Modelling
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 24 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Control surface
  • Control volume
  • Ecological modeling
  • Ecological network analysis
  • Ecosystem energetics
  • Eulerian
  • Reynolds transport theorem

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modeling
  • Ecology


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