The Princeton Guide to Ecology

By Simon A. Levin | Go to book overview

III.16
Macroecological Perspectives
on Communities and Ecosystems
Pablo A. Marquet
OUTLINE
1. The road to macroecology
2. Macroecology: Toward a definition
3. Macroecological patterns
4. Neutral macroecology
5. Metabolic theory

Macroecology is an emergent research program in ecology that examines patterns and processes in ecological systems at large spatial and temporal scales. It acknowledges the complexity of ecological systems and the limitation of reductionistic approaches, emphasizing a statistical description of patterns in ensembles of multiple species. One of its goals is the identification of regularities that might eventually unveil the general principles underlying the structure and functioning of communities and ecosystems.


GLOSSARY

energetic equivalence. Concept that denotes the equivalence of species in terms of the amount of energy that their populations use within natural communities

metabolism. Network of chemical reactions that take place in living entities and by which energy and materials are taken up from the environment, transformed into the component of the network that sustains it, and allocated to perform specific functions

metacommunity. Set of local communities that are linked by the dispersal of their components and potentially interacting species

metapopulation. Set of local populations of one species linked through dispersal

reductionism. Scientific approach by which understanding of complex systems can be obtained by reducing them to the interactions among their constituent parts

scaling. Name given to the existence of a power–law relationship between two variables of the form y = axθ, where θ is the scaling exponent and is normalization constant

species-area relationship. Relationship that describes how the number of species increases with the area sampled or with the size of the system under analysis (e.g., lake, habitat fragment, or island)

Theory of Insular Biogeography. Equilibrium theory proposed by MacArthur and Wilson in 1963 that proposes that the number of species in a given island results from the dynamic equilibrium of the opposite processes of immigration from a source and local extinctions


1. THE ROAD TO MACROECOLOGY

As do most research programs in science, macroecology represents the crystallization of a line of inquiry that started two centuries ago with the discoveries of the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, published in 1807, and his remarks on the latitudinal distribution of biodiversity (the pole-to-tropic gradient) and continued, with different intensity, in the works of Olof Arrhenius, Carrington Bonsor Williams, John Christopher Willis, Frank Preston, Leigh Van Valen, George Evelyn Hutchinson, Robert MacArthur, Eduardo Rapoport, and several others. One can ask in retrospective, What makes the work of these authors macreocological? The common theme in all of them was the usually large spatial extent (i.e., regional to continental) of the patterns they reported and the use of statistical descriptions of species ensembles with regard to attributes such as abundance, richness, geographic distribution, or body mass, with an emphasis on the emerging patterns rather than on the component

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