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1998 Annual Meeting – Baltimore


A.  PRINCIPAL ORGANIZER (Name, mailing address, phone, FAX, and e-mail):

Lenore Fahrig (for ESA Theoretical Ecology Section)
Ottawa-Carleton Institute of Biology
Carleton University
Ottawa, Canada K1S 5B6

phone: 613-520-2600 x 3856
FAX: 613-520-4497


Seeking generality in ecology: current approaches

D.      SPEAKERS ALREADY CONTACTED (Names and tentative titles):

1.  C.S. Holling (agreed)
General theory of ecosystem dynamics and structure.

2.  Michael Huston (agreed)
Developing general theory of biodiversity.

3.  Ed Connor (agreed)
Using meta-analysis to develop general theory of population density vs.
patch size relationships.

4.  Chris Ray (agreed)
Relationship between disperal and population dynamics: models and
cross-system studies.

5.  Jim Brown (contacted, waiting for response)
A general theory of macro-ecology and energetics.

6.  Henrik Andren (contacted, waiting for response)
Population response to landscape structure: conceptual models and
cross-system comparisons.

7.  Sharon Kingsland (agreed)
The quest for generality in ecology: a historical perspective.

E. ADDITIONAL SPEAKERS TO BE CONTACTED (Names and tentative topics):

The following may be contacted if Brown and/or Andren declines:

1.  Kevin Gaston
A general theory of rarity.

2.  Mark Hunter
A general theory of insect outbreak.

F. SPONSORSHIP BY ESA SECTION (Note that a letter from the Section Chair
must accompany the application).

Plant Population Biology ____                   Applied Ecology____

Aquatic Ecology ____                            International Affairs ____

Paleoecology ____                       Physiological Ecology ____

Theoretical Ecology _***_                       Soil Ecology ____

Long-term Studies ____                          Vegetation ____

Statistical Ecology ____                                Education ____

Asian Ecology ____

G. In one page or less, describe the symposium. Include background
information, goals, objectives, and explain its importance and interest to
the membership of ESA.
Seeking Generality in Ecology: Current Approaches

In his MacArthur lecture at the 1997 annual ESA meeting, David
Tilman argued that modern ecology lacks synthesis. This concern was
echoed in the plenary talk by Buzz Holling, who decried the
disintegration of ecological research into smaller and smaller
manageable but trivial questions.

Is generality lacking in ecology, and if so, why? Over the
past few years, much ecological research has emphasized the uniqueness
and complexity, particularly spatial complexity, of individual
ecological systems. Many ecologists have become loath to generalize
among systems, on the assumption that the specific attributes
particular to each system would make such generalization invalid.
Although some theoretical ecologists continue to develop general
theories, these theories are often ignored by those empiricists who do
not believe they can possibly represent reality in any meaningful or
useful way.

Paradoxically, the rejection of general theory comes at a time
when robust, general principles in ecology are badly needed. As
emphasized in several recent plenary talks at annual ESA meetings,
ecologists are frequently asked to provide advice on a range of
applied problems. Management decisions must often be made in the
absence of detailed studies of the individual system(s) being managed.
Application of general principles is therefore necessary, and these
principles must be derived from valid general theories.

The aims of this symposium will be to catalyze discussion of
the nature and role of general theory in ecology, and provide examples
of current methods for developing valid general theory. Presentations
will cover the following major approaches: (i) generalized mechanistic
modelling, (ii) conceptual modelling, (iii) meta-analysis and (iv)
cross-system studies. Each speaker will be asked to present a
definition of general ecological theory, describe a research project
aimed at development of general theory, articulate the theory
resulting from the research, and discuss the validity of the theory.

This symposium should attract interest from a wide range of
ecologists, both theoretical and empirical. There has not been a
symposium on this topic in the last 3 ESA annual meetings.

Fred Wagner
Ecology Center
Utah State University
Logan, UT 84322-5205
Phone (801) 797-2555
FAX (801) 797-3872


To: Fred Wagner
Chair, ESA program

As the Chair of the Theoretical Ecology Section, I am passing on the
endorsement of our section of the proposal submitted by Lenore Fahrig for a
symposium entitled “Seeking Generality in Ecology: Current Approaches”

Lenore Fahrig was chosen to organize the symposium as part of her role as
vice chair of the Theoretical Ecology Section. The symposium topic was
chosen by Lenore based on an extensive discussion by the members of our
section at our meeting in Albuquerque. The topic is both exciting and
timely, as recent papers and talks (by Jim Brown, Buzz Holling, and Dave
Tilman, among others) on these issues have generated immense interest.  The
proposed speakers are an exciting set who are known both for their
scientific work and skill in presentation.

We look forward to sponsoring another very successful symposium at the ESA
meeting in Providence.


Peter Turchin
Chair, Theoretical Ecology Section

Peter Turchin
Dept. of Ecology and Evol. Biology
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT 06269-3043, USA
tel. 860-486-3603; fax 860-486-6364