The problem of pattern and scale in ecology

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4418 Scopus citations

Abstract

Argues that the problem of pattern and scale is the central problem in ecology, unifying population biology and ecosystems science, and marrying basic and applied ecology. Applied challenges, such as the prediction of the ecological causes and consequences of global climate change, require the interfacing of phenomena that occur on very different scales of space, time, and ecological organization. Systems generally show characteristic variability on a range of spatial, temporal, and organizational scales. The observer imposes a perceptual bias, a filter through which the system is viewed. This has fundamental evolutionary significance, since every organism is an "observer' of the environment, and life history adaptations such as dispersal and dormancy alter the perceptual scales of the species, and the observed variability. The key to prediction and understanding lies in the elucidation of mechanisms underlying observed patterns. Typically, these mechanisms operate at different scales than those on which the patterns are observed; in some cases, the patterns must be understood as emerging from the collective behaviors of large ensembles of smaller scale units. In other cases, the pattern is imposed by larger scale constraints. Examination of such phenomena requires the study of how pattern and variability change with the scale of description, and the development of laws for simplification, aggregation, and scaling. -from Author

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1943-1967
Number of pages25
JournalEcology
Volume73
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 1992

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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