Our inaugural Things you should read post is about Brian McGill’s new paper on unifying unified theories of macroecological patterns.
One of the major challenges to understanding ecology is that there are so many different ways to characterize the structure of ecological systems. This means that we spread our intellectual efforts across a large number of different questions making progress in any given area relatively slow. In recent years the field has begun to recognize that many of these patterns are related to one another meaning that understanding ecological structure may be simpler than we thought. This has resulted in the publication of a number of theories that appear to successfully predict multiple ecological patterns. McGill’s contribution is to recognize that all of these theories are successful because they produce three simple things:
- Spatial aggregation of individuals within species
- A broad scale distribution of abundances with many rare species and few common species
- And independent occurrence of individuals of different species
Instead of claiming that this simply makes ecology null and uninteresting McGill recognizes that it just simplifies our challenge and makes a general understanding of many ecological patterns something that might be tractable. The challenge for (macro)ecologists is now to understand the three patterns above along with patterns of species richness and total community abundance. Go read.