‘Scaling in Ecology’ and the ESA 100th anniversary – symposium on ‘A focus on scaling for the next 100 years’

“Biological research is in crisis…. Technology gives us the tools to analyze organisms at all scales, but we are drowning in a sea of data and thirsting for some theoretical framework with which to understand it.”
Sydney Brenner. 2012

 “The harmony of the world is made manifest in form and number, and the heart and soul and all the poetry of Natural Philosophy are embodied in the concept of mathematical beauty.”  
D’Arcy Thompson 1942

I am happy to announce that we will be organizing an exciting and synthetic symposium at the next Ecological Society of America meeting – the 100th anniversary of ESA! The symposium is entitled. “Scaling in Ecology: Building a synthetic and predictive science for the next 100 years”.  This symposium brings together a collection of scientists working at the forefront of efforts to integrate patterns and processes across scales. images-1  Why a symposium on scaling? Probably the most central problems associated with ecology is “how do we understand and ‘scale up’ ecological pattern and process from genes to ecosystems?” and “how do we predict the response of organisms, diversity, and the biosphere to climate and land use change”?  Ecology for the next 100 years will increasingly need to address the challenge of quantitatively linking pattern and process across temporal and spatial scales as well as how to scale up biological measures and theory to predict the effects of climate and land use change.  This is a grand challenge – it has been for the past 100 years of ESA but certainly will continue to be for the next 100 years Two of the most influential ecological publications from ESA have been associated with the problem of scaling – indeed, these papers have been the ESA MacArthur Award papers by Simon Levin (The Problem of Pattern and Scale in Ecology) and J.H. Brown (The Metabolic Theory of Ecology).But how much progress have we made since these papers?  A focus on scaling has always held the promise of providing a synthetic framework through which to integrate and understand the processes responsible for generating numerous prominent ecological patterns. gr3 Scaling theories attempt to provide a general, predictive and synthetic framework for the structure and function of plants and animals that integrates across scales from cells to ecosystems. Scaling theories are grounded in the premise that general rules emerge from a focus on on how biological and ecological processes change as a function of scale – questions focused on how biological processes depend on body size, metabolism, area, and time are all fundamentally scaling problems. The last few decades have seen intense research interest, debate, and other methodological and analytical activity with scaling approaches. There has been much work done to develop general scaling theories associated with biodiversity, ecosystem pattern and process, and the nrg1272-i2ramifications of metabolism.  Much progress has been made in identifying patterns and revising and extending scaling theory in light of extensive new empirical data. Ecologists working across a range of scales have brought new information into the mix and exciting advances have been made on many fronts. Applications of scaling theory have been used to predict individual-level biological rates (e.g. primary production) and states (i.e. nutrient content), and the consequences of such phenomena at lower and higher levels of biological organization. The scope scaling approaches continue to expand and now encompasses a large array of biological phenomena – from the dynamics of cellular organelles to global patterns in biodiversity – and subdisciplines, including plant physiology, community ecology, and ecosystem science. Our ESA symposium brings together a collection of ecologists working at the forefront of attempts to utilize integrative and synthetic approaches to modeling ecological patterns and processes. Research areas range from the adaptive nature of traits and biological networks to the structure and dynamics of plant and animal communities, scale dynamics of biodiversity and ecosystems to the role of body size in structuring food webs, to processes driving the flux of materials and energy at ecosystem scales. While the range of physical scales and taxa spanned by this group is considerable, all recognize and incorporate the central roles of scaling to their research programs. Our goal is to consider the advances made in each area individually and also how the areas overlap in hopes that the insights gained from each respective scale can inform and enrich attempts at synthesis across scales. Scaling Symposium Speakers Metabolic Scaling: Pattern, Theory, and Future Van Savage, University of California, Los Angeles. Temporal scaling of biodiversity: A missing component of building a predictive ecology Morgan Ernest, Biology, Utah State University On the scaling of biodiversity distribution and fluctuation Pablo A. Marquet, Ecología, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Instituto de Ecologia y Biodiversidad, Santiago, Chile Trophic interactions: Scaling approaches to developing a predictive theory for Ocean Sustainability in the face of climate change Julia L. Blanchard, Animal & Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom Scaling ecological data to reveal emergent properties of ecosystems Dennis Baldocchi, Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA Using scaling theories to parameterize simulation models to forecast ecological environmental change. David Coomes, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom Is there a unified scaling theory for ecology and evolution? Karl J. Niklas, Department of Plant Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

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1 Comment »

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