Editorial: Unifying Ecology Across Scales: Progress, Challenges and Opportunities

Photo credit: JP Krajewski


Ecology is the science of how living systems grow, change, and persist. Although this is not the definition presented in most textbooks, this is the central theme of this scientific discipline as it is practiced in the current era of rapid global change. Change comes in many forms, from natural succession of communities to biological invasions affecting patterns of biodiversity to the collapse of fisheries. Understanding and forecasting natural change as well as mitigating undesirable anthropogenic change is one of the grand challenges we face in the twenty-first century. With our collective focus on global change, the ecological sciences—from organismal, population, community, and ecosystem ecology to evolutionary ecology—are undergoing a revolution. It has become clear that although we have vast and multifaceted ecological knowledge, it has yet to solidify into a coherent body of science. For example, over decades in the latter half of the twentieth century researchers, journals and even entire academic departments focused on specific branches of ecological thinking as narrowly defined as behavioral ecology, population ecology, or community ecology. Currently though, it has become clear that to understand our changing world and our place in it, examining the ecological changes afoot from a fragmented and narrow disciplinary perspective is insufficient. Population dynamics, ecosystem functions, individual behavior, and other aspects of living systems are deeply connected, and we cannot project changes in one without understanding how they are related to other processes across scales of space and time and levels of biological organization.

Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 8: 381.