The Theory of Ecological Communities

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Mark Velland. 2017. The Theory of Ecological Communities. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978 0 691 16484 7

Usually, this site reviews texts that cover a range of topics and provide introductions to a broad range of ecological thinking. This text covers just a single area, and a theoretical one at that. As such, it’s a highly advanced text but the underlying theme, that of creating a simple framework for discussion, has implications that can be used elsewhere.

The aim of the author is to flesh out his original idea that community ecology needed an overarching framework. The introduction serves largely to allow the reader to appreciate the development of the thesis and gain some guide as to how the text is structured. Given that this could be read by a wide range of ecologists from beginner to expert (and the range in between) this does help provide an overview that many would find useful. In fact, the multiplicity of audiences is referred to explicitly in these opening pages. This is followed by two brief chapters outlining the nature of communities under study – horizontal as opposed to vertical although the latter is not really given the treatment of the former owing, as is stated, to there being far fewer studies. There’s a brief overview of the development of ideas.

The real work starts with chapter 4. We’ve already been given a glimpse of this new model composed of 4 aspects which can explain community ecology – selection, drift, dispersal and speciation: the aim now is to flesh out and justify this typology. The logic for this is now laid out. If you are going to put forward a novel way of considering a topic, three items need to be in place: an understanding of current perspectives, a critique of where and why there are shortfalls and, if this new model is to be accepted readily, where might parallel examples be found. These points, and more make up the chapter although it is very slender and the reader might be wondering if the basic ideas might have been more fully developed. The actual model is developed in chapter 5 with opportunities for those wishing to attempt computer simulations of the model follow on.

Now that the model has been described and some predictions made, the author turns to studies already completed to show how they might support this new thesis. The model generates predictions that are then tested, using a consistent and transparent method, using existing studies. Two final chapters explore the implications of these ideas for future studies. A large bibliography allows readers to follow specific lines of inquiry.

It’s clear that this is a well-written exposition of one theory of ecological communities that argues for a framework within which to site further study and research. As such, it would be an interesting read to professionals in the field and the primary audience, post-graduates. However, as with many texts destined for certain audiences, it has much to teach other groups. Most obviously, the process of marshalling and presenting data and constructs would appeal to many who want to see a transparent attempt at developing ideas. The author has followed a logical sequence making sure that the reader can at least appreciate the systematic approach employed. As such, it serves as a good example for students on conducting arguments.

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