Tuesday, August 5, 2008 - 2:10 PM

COS 38-3: Integration of population and evolutionary ecology based on first principles: Linking research and education

Liz Pásztor, Eötvös University, Zoltán Botta-Dukát, Institute of Ecology and Botany, HAS, Tamás Czárán, Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Eötvös University, Gabriella Magyar, Gedeon Richter Plc., and Géza Meszéna, Eötvös University.

Background/Question/Methods Our ability to educate the ecologists of the future may also depend on our ability to integrate knowledge. An integrated, coherent and robust theory, well-organised, structured knowledge, effective methods and definite algorithms are crutial means to reduce uncertainty, enhance understanding and provide a profound basis for well-informed decisions. Good theory presents structure for large areas of ecology and makes possible the integration of many sub-fields into a unified discipline. Tons of results in loosely connected fields are owerhelming. Clear formulation and empirical illustration of a limited number of well-defined, interrelated concepts and first principles may disburden students and scientists as well.

We provided an integrated introduction to population and evolutionary ecology as a part of a general ecology textbook for undergraduate students (Pásztor, Oborny 2007) by focusing on model-free, detailed explanations of the major first principles and concepts. Organised around these explanations we showed a series of relevant and important empirical examples, methods and even models in blocks. The following first principles supported the integration of population and evolutionary ecology:

P1 Principle of exponential population growth (i.e. the capacity for exponential growth),
P2 Principle of growth regulation (i.e. its inevitability in face of P1),
P3 Principle of inherited variations (i.e. its unavoidable nature),
P4 Principle of natural selection (i.e. the survival of the fitter inherited variant; result of P1,P3),
P5 Principle of robust coexistence (i.e. the need that the competitor populations have to be regulated quite differently to coexist),
P6 Principle of allocation (i.e. inevitability of life-history trade-offs and trade-offs between fitness in different environments).
It is either evident or can be proved that these first principles must be valid also in structured and fluctuating environments.
While we accepted that a main aim of ecology is the explanation of the distribution and abundance of populations, we also put an equal emphasis on the dynamics that creates their patterns under the actual environmental conditions. As we brought population regulation into focus (Meszéna et. al 2006), a dynamic niche concept has emerged and became an integrating concept linking population regulation, geographic distribution, coexistence and speciation.

Pásztor E. & Oborny B. (eds) 2007: Ökológia. (Ecology) Nemzeti Tankönyvkiadó, Budapest. 420 p. http://okotankonyv.elte.hu/
Meszéna, G., M. Gyllenberg, L. Pásztor & J. A. J. Metz 2006: Competitive exclusion and limiting similarity: a unified theory. Theoretical Population Biology 69: 68-87.