Theoretical Ecology: Principles and Applications

Theoretical Ecology: Principles and Applications

Theoretical Ecology: Principles and Applications

Theoretical Ecology: Principles and Applications


Robert May's seminal book has played a central role in the development of ecological science. Originally published in 1976, this influential text has overseen the transition of ecology from an observational and descriptive subject to one with a solid conceptual core. Indeed, it is a testament to its influence that a great deal of the novel material presented in the earlier editions has now been incorporated into standard undergraduate textbooks. It is now a quarter of a century since thepublication of the second edition, and a thorough revision is timely. Theoretical Ecology provides a succinct, up-to-date overview of the field set in the context of applications, thereby bridging the traditional division of theory and practice. It describes the recent advances in our understanding of how interacting populations of plants and animals change over time and space, in response to natural or human-created disturbance. In an integrated way, initial chapters give an account of thebasic principles governing the structure, function, and temporal and spatial dynamics of populations and communities of plants and animals. Later chapters outline applications of these ideas to practical issues including fisheries, infectious diseases, tomorrow's food supplies, climate change, and conservation biology. Throughout the book, emphasis is placed on questions which as yet remain unanswered. The editors have invited the top scientists in the field to collaborate with the next generation of theoretical ecologists. The result is an accessible, advanced textbook suitable for senior undergraduate and graduate level students as well as researchers in the fields of ecology, mathematical biology, environment and resources management. It will also be of interest to the general reader seeking a better understanding of a range of global environmental problems.


Martin A. Nowak and Karl Sigmund

Subsequent chapters in this volume deal with populations as dynamic entities in time and space. Populations are, of course, made up of individuals, and the parameters which characterize aggregate behavior—population growth rate and so on— ultimately derive from the behavioral ecology and life-history strategies of these constituent individuals. in evolutionary terms, the properties of populations can only be understood in terms of individuals, which comes down to studying how life-history choices (and consequent genefrequency distributions) are shaped by environmental forces.

Many important aspects of group behavior— from alarm calls of birds and mammals to the complex institutions that have enabled human societies to flourish—pose problems of how cooperative behavior can evolve and be maintained. the puzzle was emphasized by Darwin, and remains the subject of active research today.

In this book, we leave the large subject of individual organisms’ behavioral ecology and lifehistory choices to texts in that field (e.g. Krebs and Davies, 1997). Instead, we lead with a survey of work, much of it very recent, on five different kinds of mechanism whereby cooperative behavior may be maintained in a population, despite the inherent difficulty that cheats may prosper by enjoying the benefits of cooperation without paying the associated costs.

Cooperation means that a donor pays a cost, c, for a recipient to get a benefit, b. in evolutionary biology, cost and benefit are measured in terms of fitness. While mutation and selection represent the main forces of evolutionary dynamics, cooperation is a fundamental principle that is required for every level of biological organization. Individual cells rely on cooperation among their components. Multicellular organisms exist because of cooperation among their cells. Social insects are masters of cooperation. Most aspects of human society are based on mechanisms that promote cooperation. Whenever evolution constructs something entirely new (such as multicellularity or human language), cooperation is needed. Evolutionary construction is based on cooperation.

The five rules for cooperation which we examine in this chapter are: kin selection, direct reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, graph selection, and group selection. Each of these can promote cooperation if specific conditions are fulfilled.

2.1 Kin selection

The heated conversation took place in an unheated British pub over some pints of warm bitter. Suddenly J.B.S. Haldane remarked, ‘I will jump into the river to save two brothers or eight cousins.’ the founding father of population genetics and dedicated communist in his spare time never bothered to develop this insight any further. the witness of the revelation was Haldane’s eager pupil, the young John Maynard Smith. But given John’s high regard for entertaining stories and good beer, can we trust his memory?

The insight that Haldane might have had in the pub was precisely formulated by William Hamilton. He wrote a PhD thesis on this topic, submitted a long paper to the Journal of Theoretical Biology, and spent much of the next decade in the Brazilian . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.