Foundations of ecosystem science: Legacy of a classic paper (Odum 1969)
E.P. (Gene) Odum was one of the most influential ecologists of the twentieth century. The most influential of his publications, “The strategy of ecosystem development” published in Science in 1969, bridged the gap between evolutionary and ecosystem ecology, which at the time were opposite views of the world. Odum developed a number of testable predictions about basic energetics and biogeochemical dynamics that launched new fields and guided ecological research for the next 40 years. ESA’s Centennial meeting is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the impact of E.P. Odum’s work and, particularly, his 1969 paper. To understand the legacy of this paper, we reviewed all the papers that cited Odum (1969) through 2010 (n = 1,732). For each paper, we collected bibliographic information and determined the context in which the paper was cited (e.g., what, if any, hypotheses were discussed and/or tested).
Most of the papers citing Odum 1969 are either data collection (60%) or modeling (14%) papers, supporting the role of this paper in spurring primary research. Indeed, citations to Odum have increased linearly since the article was first published (R2 = 0.73). The paper was cited in many other important ecological papers including Connell & Slatyer (1977), Brown et al. (2004), and Likens et al. (1970). Every hypothesis that Odum suggested has been tested, although not equally in terms of the number of papers testing each hypothesis. For instance, predictions relating to shifts in community structure, and particularly species diversity, have received much attention while predictions related to entropy or information flow in ecosystems have received less attention. Overall, this analysis shows how Odum’s pioneering vision formed a foundation for new research both in ecosystem science and other fields and how some of the ideas presented in the paper are still very relevant for the field today.