On the Origin of Ecological Structure

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Science  02 Oct 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5949, pp. 33-35
DOI: 10.1126/science.326_33

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Ecologists have wrestled with understanding what dictates the kinds and proportions of organisms in communities ranging from meadows to montane forests. Competition, predation, disturbance, and other factors have a heavy hand, and new research is showing the influential role of evolution as well. But there is still no consensus on the relative importance of the various forces. Darwin and many later ecologists emphasized competition among species, but proponents of a controversial theory of biodiversity that assumes competition has no impact argue that immigration and other random demographic events can account for much of the apparent makeup of communities. As a result, ecologists have a long way to go to come up with formulas that predict how communities might arise and change. Yet the ability to make predictions is important for the restoration and management of ecosystems impacted by invasive species or climate change.