From Populations to Ecosystems: Theoretical Foundations for a New Ecological Synthesis (MPB-46)

Princeton University Press
Free sample

The major subdisciplines of ecology--population ecology, community ecology, ecosystem ecology, and evolutionary ecology--have diverged increasingly in recent decades. What is critically needed today is an integrated, real-world approach to ecology that reflects the interdependency of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. From Populations to Ecosystems proposes an innovative theoretical synthesis that will enable us to advance our fundamental understanding of ecological systems and help us to respond to today's emerging global ecological crisis.

Michel Loreau begins by explaining how the principles of population dynamics and ecosystem functioning can be merged. He then addresses key issues in the study of biodiversity and ecosystems, such as functional complementarity, food webs, stability and complexity, material cycling, and metacommunities. Loreau describes the most recent theoretical advances that link the properties of individual populations to the aggregate properties of communities, and the properties of functional groups or trophic levels to the functioning of whole ecosystems, placing special emphasis on the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Finally, he turns his attention to the controversial issue of the evolution of entire ecosystems and their properties, laying the theoretical foundations for a genuine evolutionary ecosystem ecology.



From Populations to Ecosystems points the way to a much-needed synthesis in ecology, one that offers a fuller understanding of ecosystem processes in the natural world.

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About the author

Michel Loreau is professor and Canada Research Chair in theoretical ecology at McGill University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jul 1, 2010
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Pages
320
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ISBN
9781400834167
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Language
English
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Genres
Nature / Ecology
Science / Life Sciences / Biological Diversity
Science / Life Sciences / Ecology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Our species has transitioned from being one among millions on Earth to the species that is single-handedly transforming the entire planet to suit its own needs. In order to meet the daunting challenges of environmental sustainability in this epoch of human domination—known as the Anthropocene—ecologists have begun to think differently about the interdependencies between humans and the natural world. This concise and accessible book provides the best available introduction to what this new ecology is all about—and why it matters more than ever before.

Oswald Schmitz describes how the science of ecology is evolving to provide a better understanding of how human agency is shaping the natural world, often in never-before-seen ways. The new ecology emphasizes the importance of conserving species diversity, because it can offer a portfolio of options to keep our ecosystems resilient in the face of environmental change. It envisions humans taking on new roles as thoughtful stewards of the environment to ensure that ecosystems have the enduring capacity to supply the environmental services on which our economic well-being—and our very existence—depend. It offers the ecological know-how to maintain and enhance our planet's environmental performance and ecosystem production for the benefit of current and future generations.

Informative and engaging, The New Ecology shows how today’s ecology can provide the insights we need to appreciate the crucial role we play in this era of unprecedented global environmental transition.

In an age of increasing environmental problems, ecology has had to grow up fast from a discipline dealing with relatively simple interactions between species to one that tries to explain changes in global patterns of diversity and richness. The issues are complex. Every species may seem to have its own unique role, but if that is true, then why are there hundreds of species of plankton in an ecosystem with only a handful of niches? The tropics have a high biodiversity, but does anybody know why? And how can a single introduced tree species wreak havoc in Hawaii’s rainforests, when it is one of thousands of quietly coexisting tree species in its native continent, South America?
The strength of this book is that it will help digest some of these more complex issues in the ecology of biodiversity. It will do this by zooming out from the local scale to the global scale in a number of steps, marrying community ecology with macroecology, and introducing unexpected nuggets of natural history along the way. The reader will notice that, the larger the scale, the more the familiar niche-concept appears to be overshadowed by exotic fields from fractal and complexity theory. However, scientists differ in opinion on the scale at which niches become irrelevant. These differences of opinion, but also the search for unified ecological theories, will form another force by which the story will be carried along to its conclusion. A conclusion which, surprisingly, seeks to find a glimpse of the globe's future in the traces from its past.
An ecosystem's complexity develops from the vast numbers of species interacting in ecological communities. The nature of these interactions, in turn, depends on environmental context. How do these components together influence an ecosystem's behavior as a whole? Can ecologists resolve an ecosystem's complexity in order to predict its response to disturbances? Resolving Ecosystem Complexity develops a framework for anticipating the ways environmental context determines the functioning of ecosystems.

Oswald Schmitz addresses the critical questions of contemporary ecology: How should an ecosystem be conceptualized to blend its biotic and biophysical components? How should evolutionary ecological principles be used to derive an operational understanding of complex, adaptive ecosystems? How should the relationship between the functional biotic diversity of ecosystems and their properties be understood? Schmitz begins with the universal concept that ecosystems are comprised of species that consume resources and which are then resources for other consumers. From this, he deduces a fundamental rule or evolutionary ecological mechanism for explaining context dependency: individuals within a species trade off foraging gains against the risk of being consumed by predators. Through empirical examples, Schmitz illustrates how species use evolutionary ecological strategies to negotiate a predator-eat-predator world, and he suggests that the implications of species trade-offs are critical to making ecology a predictive science.


Bridging the traditional divides between individuals, populations, and communities in ecology, Resolving Ecosystem Complexity builds a systematic foundation for thinking about natural systems.

Despite its supreme importance and the threat of its global crash, biodiversity remains poorly understood both empirically and theoretically. This ambitious book presents a new, general neutral theory to explain the origin, maintenance, and loss of biodiversity in a biogeographic context.

Until now biogeography (the study of the geographic distribution of species) and biodiversity (the study of species richness and relative species abundance) have had largely disjunct intellectual histories. In this book, Stephen Hubbell develops a formal mathematical theory that unifies these two fields. When a speciation process is incorporated into Robert H. MacArthur and Edward O. Wilson's now classical theory of island biogeography, the generalized theory predicts the existence of a universal, dimensionless biodiversity number. In the theory, this fundamental biodiversity number, together with the migration or dispersal rate, completely determines the steady-state distribution of species richness and relative species abundance on local to large geographic spatial scales and short-term to evolutionary time scales.


Although neutral, Hubbell's theory is nevertheless able to generate many nonobvious, testable, and remarkably accurate quantitative predictions about biodiversity and biogeography. In many ways Hubbell's theory is the ecological analog to the neutral theory of genetic drift in genetics. The unified neutral theory of biogeography and biodiversity should stimulate research in new theoretical and empirical directions by ecologists, evolutionary biologists, and biogeographers.

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