The Twentieth Century
Ecology Comes of Age
Charles Darwin got ecology launched. He described what really happens in the economy of nature far better than anyone who preceded him. Ecologists then promptly forgot about him for something like a half a century. Even then they were a bit slow on the uptake. Ecologists were conspicuously absent from the grand synthesis of evolutionary theory that was started in the 1930s with the seminal work of J.B.S. Haldane, Ronald Fisher, and Sewall Wright. When Theodosius Dobjhansky and Ernst Mayr developed the biological species concept,1 the notion that reproductive isolating mechanisms separate species, ecologists contributed little. George Gaylord Simpson's classic work interpreting the fossil record for trend and rate analysis,2 at least to my knowledge, never found its way into ecology texts, though it certainly had significant ecological implications.
For the early years of the twentieth century ecology remained essentially a descriptive science. Ecologists went into the field, counted plants and animals, made lists, and that was pretty much that. To give them their due, the natural world is complex and ecologists found it challenging enough to accurately survey the species present in various environments and obtain estimates of population sizes.
The emergence of lab-based physiology served as an example to would-be ecologists, who tried, in their field methodology, to emulate the methodology of laboratory physiologists. Ecologists