Animal Ecology To-Day

By F. S. Bodenheimer; W. W. Weisbach | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

"Everyone who writes a textbook on any branch of experimental science must set down as many wrong statements as right; he cannot carry out most experiments himself, he must rely on the testimony of others and often take probability for truth. Thus a compendium is a monument of the time when the facts were collected and it must be renewed and rewritten again and again. But while fresh discoveries are accepted and a few chapters improved, others perpetrate misleading experiments and erroneous deductions."

from The Theory of Colour, by GOETHE.

A colleague1 stated recently in an ecological analysis that he had studied some parts of the population problem intensively and that therefore his findings were based on definite facts; others had been studied by him relatively little, so that on these he offered suggestive ideas based on insufficient evidence; and still others he had barely studied so that he gave in these cases unbased theories. This is a good and sincere statement which should serve to introduce all treatises on the theory of animal populations.

Despite the apparently great diversity of opinions in modern population theory, the contrasting views stem mainly from very similar situations. Every one of us who has devoted a lifetime of research on animal populations, has by necessity, because of the limitations of the human mind, proceeded in one way. We all studied one aspect thoroughly, found this special approach fertile, and continued to follow this promising path. This limitation of perspective however has blinded us to greater or lesser degree to other colours or perspectives of nature's picture. We have all, at least during early development, overemphasized one aspect and neglected many others. Once this difficulty is fully recognised, the time has come for an attempt to synthesize all the serious work in our field without any false compromise. We have endeavoured to give here a tentative synthesis, lacking perfection as it may still be, in the hope that we have nonetheless demonstrated that it is both possible and feasible. All different approaches can be united in the study of a population as a whole, thus merely complementing one another.

The situation is similar to that described for philosophy by A. J. AYER2, who stated: "I maintain that there is nothing in the nature of philosophy to warrant the existence of conflicting philosophical "schools". And I attempt to substantiate this by providing a definite solution of the problems which have been the chief sources of controversy between philosophers in the past."

Many ways have been ventured by nature to solve the problem of "natural balance", and it is for the common good that almost every path has been trodden, often to the end, with eager stubbornness. Every one of these attempts has caught one corner of the truth, without which we would be unable to comprehend the whole.

-7-

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