PerspectiveEcology

Matters of Scale

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Science  30 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5978, pp. 575-576
DOI: 10.1126/science.1188528

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Summary

In 1687, Newton reported that the same laws could describe Galileo's data on balls rolling down ramps and Brahe's data on planets moving around the Sun (1). This observation implied that a finite list of principles could explain our infinite universe. And it inspired a leap across scales: The rules at human scales are not unique. Newton's laws of motion are still the dominant explanatory tool across scales ranging from a few atoms to solar systems. However, over the past 25 years, ecologists have come to realize that, unlike physics, ecology is scale-dependent (24). In a recent paper, Gotelli, Graves, and Rahbek (5) highlight the importance of this scale dependence: They show that a process that occurs at small spatial scales, namely competition between individuals, plays an important role even at the large scale of an entire country.