Hastings, Alan Division of Environmental Studies, University of California, Davis, California.
Last reviewed:January 2021
- Levels of ecological theory
- Physiological and biomechanical theory
- Behavioral and evolutionary theory
- Population theory for single species
- Population dynamics of interacting species
- Community theory
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
The use of verbal models, analytical models, or simulation models to explain patterns, suggest experiments, or make predictions in ecology. Because ecological systems are idiosyncratic, extremely complex, and variable, ecological theory faces special challenges. Unlike physics or genetics, which use fundamental laws of gravity or of inheritance, ecology has no widely accepted first-principle laws. Instead, different theories must be invoked for different questions, and the theoretical approaches are enormously varied. Indeed, a central problem in ecological theory is determining what type of model to use and what to leave out of a model. The traditional approaches have relied on analytical models based on differential or difference equations; but recently the use of computer simulation has greatly increased with advances in computational power and ease of use. See also: Ecological modeling; Ecology; Ecology, applied; Simulation
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