"Macroecological patterns, chance and necessity"
A fundamental goal of ecology is to understand empirical patterns of biodiversity within and across ecological communities. The enormous complexity of the individual-scale processes underlying these patterns presents a formidable challenge to modellers. Here I present an approach inspired by how complex systems are modelled in physics, using the principle of maximum entropy. In this approach, many of the underlying processes are treated as random noise (“chance”) and only a few key community-scale constraints are modelled explicitly (“necessity”). I discuss how this approach has led to new insights into the relationships between the diversity, productivity and stability of plant communities.
Roderick Dewar’s postgraduate and postdoctoral research was in theoretical physics (Edinburgh and Oxford). He then transformed into a plant and ecosystem modeller, holding positions at the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (Edinburgh), the University of New South Wales (Sydney) and the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (Bordeaux), before joining The Australian National University (Canberra) in 2008. His current research lies at the interface between physics and biology, and aims to uncover and apply common organisational principles governing the emergent behaviour of complex systems such as plants, ecosystems, turbulent fluids and planetary climates.
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