On theory in ecology

Pablo A. Marquet, Andrew P. Allen, James H. Brown, Jennifer A. Dunne, Brian J. Enquist, James F. Gillooly, Patricia A. Gowaty, Jessica L. Green, John Harte, Steve P. Hubbell, James O'Dwyer, Jordan G. Okie, Annette Ostling, Mark Ritchie, David Storch, Geoffrey B. West

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

82 Scopus citations

Abstract

We argue for expanding the role of theory in ecology to accelerate scientific progress, enhance the ability to address environmental challenges, foster the development of synthesis and unification, and improve the design of experiments and large-scale environmental-monitoring programs. To achieve these goals, it is essential to foster the development of what we call efficient theories, which have several key attributes. Efficient theories are grounded in first principles, are usually expressed in the language of mathematics, make few assumptions and generate a large number of predictions per free parameter, are approximate, and entail predictions that provide well-understood standards for comparison with empirical data. We contend that the development and successive refinement of efficient theories provide a solid foundation for advancing environmental science in the era of big data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)701-710
Number of pages10
JournalBioScience
Volume64
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2014

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Keywords

  • Big data
  • Maximum entropy theory of ecology
  • Metabolic theory
  • Neutral theory of biodiversity
  • Theory unification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

Cite this

Marquet, P. A., Allen, A. P., Brown, J. H., Dunne, J. A., Enquist, B. J., Gillooly, J. F., Gowaty, P. A., Green, J. L., Harte, J., Hubbell, S. P., O'Dwyer, J., Okie, J. G., Ostling, A., Ritchie, M., Storch, D., & West, G. B. (2014). On theory in ecology. BioScience, 64(8), 701-710. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biu098