Time to share your unpopular opinions about ecology: are there any widely-held ecological ideas that you’re skeptical of? Ideas that many other ecologists think are well-established, but that you think are still open questions, or even false? And what are you doing about your skepticism, if anything? Have you used it as the basis for a grant application, for instance, or does it affect how you teach the idea in question? Tell us in the comments!
Here are some examples to get you started:
- I’m skeptical of the intermediate disturbance hypothesis, to the point of calling it a “zombie idea” (a widely-held idea that should be dead, but isn’t).
- I’m skeptical of the idea that there’s community-level selection for stable communities, because unstable ones won’t persist. Although I have no idea how many people believe that idea so maybe it’s not a good example.
- Jeff Ollerton and Angela Moles are skeptical that species interactions always are stronger and more specialized in the tropics.
- Ambika Kamath and Jon Losos are skeptical of the idea that Anolis lizards are territorial–and now they have the data to show they were right to be skeptical. That paper is a great case study of how an idea can get established on shaky grounds, and then never get unestablished because subsequent generations of researchers just take it for granted. This is why science needs contrarians.
- Our own Brian McGill was part of a working group that was skeptical of the idea that local species richness is declining everywhere. They compiled the data to show that it’s not, a result that proved controversial.
- Can’t find it now, but Stephen Heard has said here that he’s skeptical of the consensus that insect herbivores don’t much affect plant population dynamics, feeling the question is ripe for further research.
- Charley Krebs is skeptical of the value of microcosm experiments in ecology, which as best I can tell has long been a minority view.
p.s. The premise of this post is that professional disagreement is a normal part of science and worth talking about. Disagreement arises because science is hard and nobody’s infallible (very much including me).