Abstract

The problem of scaling is at the heart of ecological theory, the essence of understanding and of the development of a predictive capability. The description of any system depends on the spatial, temporal, and organizational perspective chosen; hence it is essential to understand not only how patterns and dynamics vary with scale, but also how patterns at one scale are manifestations of processes operating at other scales. Evolution has shaped the characteristics of species in ways that result in scale displacement: Each species experiences the environment at its own unique set of spatial and temporal scales and interfaces the biota through unique assemblages of phenotypes. In this way, coexistence becomes possible, and biodiversity is enhanced. By averaging over space, time, and biological interactions, a genotype filters variation at fine scales and selects the arena in which it will face the vicissitudes of nature. Variation at finer scales is then noise, of minor importance to the survival and dynamics of the species, and consequently of minor importance in any attempt at description. In attempting to model ecological interactions in space, contributors throughout this book have struggled with a trade-off between simplification and realistic complexity and detail. Although the challenge of simplification is widely recognized in ecology, less appreciated is the intertwining of scaling questions and scaling laws with the process of simplification. In the context of this chapter simplification will in general mean the use of spatial or ensemble means and low-order moments to capture more detailed interactions by integrating over given areas. In this way, one can derive descriptions of the system at different spatial scales, which provides the essentials for the extraction of scaling laws by examination of how system properties vary with scale.

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