School of Biological Sciences,The University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
COLIN R. TOWNSEND
Department of Zoology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
JOHN L. HARPER
Chapel Road, Brampford Speke, Exeter, UK
This book is about the distribution and abundance of differenttypes of organism, and about the physical, chemical but especiallythe biological features and interactions that determine thesedistributions and abundances.Unlike some other sciences, the subject matter of ecology isapparent to everybody: most people have observed and ponderednature, and in this sense most people are ecologists of sorts. Butecology is not an easy science. It must deal explicitly with threelevels of the biological hierarchy – the organisms, the populationsof organisms, and the communities of populations – and, aswe shall see, it ignores at its peril the details of the biology ofindividuals, or the pervading influences of historical, evolutionaryand geological events. It feeds on advances in our knowledgeof biochemistry, behavior, climatology, plate tectonics and so on,but it feeds back to our understanding of vast areas of biologytoo. If, as T. H. Dobzhansky said, ‘Nothing in biology makessense, except in the light of evolution’, then, equally, very littlein evolution, and hence in biology as a whole, makes senseexcept in the light of ecology.Ecology has the distinction of being peculiarly confrontedwith uniqueness: millions of different species, countless billionsof genetically distinct individuals, all living and interacting in avaried and ever-changing world. The challenge of ecology is todevelop an understanding of very basic and apparent problems,in a way that recognizes this uniqueness and complexity, but seekspatterns and predictions within this complexity rather than beingswamped by it. As L. C. Birch has pointed out, Whitehead’s recipefor science is never more apposite than when applied to ecology:seek simplicity, but distrust it.