What shape is the long trajectory of ecology? (updated)

It is fun to think about what shape is the trajectory of our field over the long haul, say the last century. Jeremy’s post on what topics ecologists should pursue got me thinking about this. Is the trajectory of ecology an asymptotic arc, a Michaelis-Menten or Ivlelv function. Always improving, getting  ever closer but never quite reaching the ideal? People have often suggested physics has this trajectory. Fundamental discoveries came quickly, but now more and more people spend more and more money to tease apart ever smaller order effects. Or is ecology a young field that shows a an upward straight line trend – major new advances coming in every year? Or even exponential growth once we got the groundwork laid? Or are we a random walk, wandering aimlessly around like the ants in anthill that got kicked over? Or may be we’re more systematic than those ants but we just keep going in circles? What do you think?

NB:  keep reading. If you submit your response to the Google survey it will collapse and create a large white space – keep scrolling down for the continuation.

I mentioned Jeremy’s poll got me thinking about this. One of the things that jumped out of the results to me was how often fields just got renamed. Metacommunities was rated very highly, while island biogeography was rated very low. But what is the overlap between island biogoegraphy and metacommunities? 90%? How productivity influences diversity was low, but BEF (Biodiversity Ecosytem Function) is trendy and is the exact same two variables with the direction of causality flipped. And diversity-stability was trendy – diversity stability is a question about how diversity affects the variance of an abundance time series while the unfashionable diversity-productivity is a question about how diversity affects the mean of an abundance time series – almost certainly topics that share processes (and data sets!).Clements-Gleason is about as out of fashion you can get. But it is not unrelated to the most trendy of all surveyed topics of range shifts in response to climate change. And it is strongly related to the trendy topic Jeremy didn’t survey of viewing community assembly as a set of three filters (abiotic, biotic and dispersal). In some of these cases we have almost literally just rebranded the ideas. In others we have shed a few ancillary pieces and added a few other ancillary pieces, partially remixing, but still leaving the inner cores recognizable.

I just finished editing the proofs on a paper defining macroecology (out in GEB in a few weeks). In it I point out that macroecology (1990s-2000s) was in part a backlash against the push for reductionist manipulative field experiments (1970s-1990s), and reductionist manipulative field experiments were in part a backlash against the MacArthurian push for simple models (1960s-1970s), and now macroecology is facing a push (2010s) to become less empirical and lean more on simple models! Have we moved anywhere?

This thread of thinking brought me back to one of my comprehensive written exam questions. At the University of Arizona, we got four written questions each of which was assigned a time frame of 3-5 days. These were fun questions and gave an opportunity to really think deeply about some topics (including some serious literature reading). One of my questions was in part “Briefly review the literature on interspecific plant-plant interactions”. I took a methodological approach to this question identifying the top 50 cited papers over the last 20 years in ISI Web of Science that used the phrase “plant competition”. I also reviewed several books and review papers on plant competition. Out of this I boiled out fourteen major research questions/themes in plant competition. They are listed in table 1 below. Then, just because I like to cause trouble and fervently believe in knowing the old literature, I dug out Clements’ et. al 1929 book “Plant Competition” (PC in the table) and Clements’ 1933 book on “Competition in Plant Societies” (PCS in the table). I skimmed these books for whether he addressed these same 14 themes and believed the same things as modern researchers.

Guess what! I concluded that Clements had already strongly and directly addressed (at least 50 years earlier) 12 of the 14 themes and reached the same conclusion as modern researchers on 11 of the 14 (again see table 1 below). One of the themes (non-equilbrial dynamics) was somewhat antithetical to Clements world-view (although he recognized disturbance) and another theme (diffuse competition) hadn’t really emerged. And on a third (allelopathy) Clements was active in the debate but believed it hadn’t yet been proven, where as modern researchers believe cases exist where it occurs.

So if you think I’m arguing for a circular shape to the long trajectory of ecology, you are right!  I think you could make a case that is actually a spiral. We come back to the same topic, but we do it in a better, more sophisticated way each time. Certainly in my Clements example, the methods were far more quantitative, the hypotheses more explicit, the mechanisms and language far less anthropomorphic (Clements loved to analogize to battles and warfare). So maybe a spiral? But the upward aspect of a spiral is primarily to be found in methods and language, not questions. And not answers. I think you could say the same thing about studying metacommunities instead of island biogoegraphy. So I’m not convinced the rising spiral aspect is central or the most important aspect (even if it is there).

Whether you believe there is a spiral or not, I think the circle is the central defining feature of the structure of the ecological trajectory. I only have 20 years of being an academic ecologist under my belt, and I already see circles everywhere. And when I read the literature further back in time I see them much more. You’re going to have a hard time convincing me I am wrong about circles (although of course that doesn’t mean you have to agree with me – maybe seeing circles is a bias of my mental processes – I am an intellectual lumper rather than splitter).

But I think the bigger question is whether the circular nature is a good thing, a bad thing, or a neutral thing? I can easily imagine most if not all people will say that a circle, if true, must be a bad thing. Nobody talks about the circular nature of progress in physics. It sounds insulting. But I am more sanguine. I think it is somewhere between neutral and positive. For one thing, I think the cycle time in ecology is about 25-30 years (there were two full cycles between Clements and the modern papers in my comps question). Not the least bit coincidentally the generation time of scientists is about the same. This means each time around it is a new group of scientists working on the topic. And that means the full circle of topics is covered in one scientists career. That makes it look like a rather more systematic and efficient exploration of what is ultimately a finite space, doesn’t it? And even if I don’t think the spiralling higher is a prominent feature, I do think reconceptualizing a topic every 25-30 years keeps it fresh, exciting and at the forefront of ecologists’ minds. And on a purely practical level, we do have to find new framings to get funding. The only way a circle looks bad is if we compare ourselves to physics and have physics envy. I do think a saturating function is a better description of physics. But physics is a very different science – it is not multicausal. In physics they discover the first order effect and find its formula, then they discover the second order effect and find its formula, and pretty soon the next generation is left explaining a few percent of the variability. Ecology doesn’t work that way. We have a list of the 5-20 things that matter, but we cannot rank order them. They are all equal. So we spend our time focusing for a while on competition, then moving on and focusing for a while on dispersal, and then moving on and focusing on exploitive interactions, and etc. Not better. Not worse. Just different. Circles are just fine for ecology!

I find it more useful to think about the implications of being circular than bemoaning being circular. In particular, it means ecology needs to be a field that teaches (at least to its graduate students) the history of its ideas. Its one thing to go around the circle with self-awareness. Its quite another to fool ourselves into thinking we are going in a line upwards. Physicists almost never bother with citations of old ideas (e.g. Newton’s 3 laws or Maxwell’s 4 equations). But I think ecologists always will and always should know and be able to trace the roots of their ideas at least one cycle back, and ideally 2 or 3 cycles back. It keeps us humble. And you know what, even if we have a fresh take, our ancestors were not idiots – reading their work can only improve our own.

What do you think? Do you buy my circle argument? Do you think a spiral is crucially different from a circle? If we are a circle is that good, bad, or neutral? What does a circle imply for how we do ecology?

 

Table 1 – The 14 major questions in plant competition in the 1980s-1990s and what Clements thought about them circa 1950

Fact Clements
Plant competition exists and is common This is no news to Clements. The fact that both of the references have the phrase “plant competition” in the title and describe numerous experiments on this subject is enough.
Plant competition is often highly asymmetric Clements regularly uses terms like dominant and subdominant. He understood the relation to size as well. “In general, the taller grasses enjoyed a decisive advantage over the shorter, but this was often counterbalanced by an earlier start or greater resistance to drouth [sic] or cold on the part of the latter. Not infrequently one species would acquire and hold the commanding position in the community and the other would perforce content itself with a subordinate role” PCS p 26. In his review of research prior to the writing of his book, he cites many authors who recognize the importance of light (PC).
Plant competition occurs both above- and below-ground Clements regularly talks about differences in root structure or shoots as a form of competition and relates this to their roles in the community (e.g. “bisects were employed to exhibit the root and shoot relations” PC p. 39). He did not have the sophisticated experiments today that allow us to say “root competition is more important in such and such condition”
Competition is density dependent and non-linear Clements certainly understood this, although the terms were not in use in his day. His experimental growth of crops at varying densities and the record of yield clearly showed the same non-linear pattern we observe today. However, he made no attempt to tie his results to any mathematical equations or models.
Competition varies over space and time Clements was well aware of this. One section in PCS is entitled “Struggle between forest and prairie” and he explores the differentiating factors. It is also clear from his writing that he was keenly aware of variations in soil, probably much more than most plant ecologists today. In a number of his field experiments he captured drought years and he talks about how this changes things (e.g. PC chapter 6) and he designed his experiments specifically to “disclose the effect of different seasons and climates on the intensity and outcome of competition” PCS p. 24
Other trophic levels affect competition Clements has a nice discussion on how grazing (either by cows or bison) affect the competition between buffalo grass and tall grass PCS pp. 28-29. He also talks abut how he designed his experiments “to evaluate the influence of animals, especially cattle and rodents, in the process [of competition]” PCS p.24. I could not find a mention of mycorrhizae in a brief review of Clements, but they were certainly known in his time (Allen and Allen 1990 cites a couple of papers published in the 1920’s)
Allelopathy occurs Clements knew about allelopathy and was part of the debate weighing in against it. He talks about “the whole problem of toxic secretions and soil toxins, and their possible role in competition. In spite of the excellent work done by Bedford and Pickering (1914) in this field, the existence, nature and role of supposed toxic substances are still subject to grave doubt (Clements, 1921) and much more extensive ecological research in various climates and soils will be necessary to a solution” PC p.35
Productivity and disturbance affect competition Clements was well aware of the role of disturbance and productivity although he did not seem to have a clear-cut idea of increasing or unimodal curves over gradients of increasing productivity or disturbance. For example he stated “Where annual mowing is the rule, Poa pratensis invades in force and assumes the role of a dominant” PC p. 37
Plants compete for resources and R* is predictive Although he was certainly aware of the role of nutrients, he tended to downplay their role compared to today: “As to the things for which plants compete, the results show that, in general, water is the most important. Light usually comes next, with minerals a close third, though the former permits a proportionally greater reduction before becoming critical.” PCS p. 35
Plants can have differentiated niches to coexist Although the niche language was not yet in vogue, it was certainly no news to Clements. “Competition is closer between species of like form than between those of dissimilar form” PC p. 11 His description of the competition between Sporobolus asper and Andropogon furcatus gives a very detailed mechanistic description of their different niches (based mostly on drought resistance vs. growth ability) PC pp.48-49.
Non-equilibrium conditions can prevent competitive exclusion Although familiar to the with the role of disturbance (see above), I believe this idea would have been foreign to Clements.
Competition can be diffuse, non-specific, and contingent If the terms were explained, I suspect Clements would agree that this was true, but I also think it was not central to his way of thinking. Most of his experiments were pairwise.
Competition can be hierarchical Clements had no doubts of this. See the quotes under the asymmetry section. Again, he did not have the neatly defined theory of inclusive niches and centrifugal organization as we describe it today, but he knew the mechanics of systems that fit this description.
Competition influences succession Clements has a five page review of the relation between succession and competition (PC p. 21-26). This may be one area in which he went further than people accept today. For example, “the outcome of each period of competition is the dominance of the best-equipped community, until the incoming of prairie or forest puts an end to the waves of invasion and conquest” PCS p. 36

24 thoughts on “What shape is the long trajectory of ecology? (updated)

  1. I have deleted the following text at the beginning of the post:
    “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice  – Martin Luther King 1964

    This opening quote is from MLK who got the basic metaphor from from Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and slavery Abolitionist, all the way back in 1853;  the basic idea has popped up every 20-40 years since 1853. Barrack Obama also often used this quote. People love this quote. It gives a sense of meaning and direction to our lives.

    Now ecologists are not up to anything anywhere near as profound as the moral universe or the abolition of slavery, but i”

    A twitter user objected to its use of a MLK quote.

    Some of his followon tweets about the moral inadequacies of ESA (with which I agree) are frankly typical twitter shallow thinking, creating a strawman in which because I am an ecologist anything I say should be assumed to be a commentary on ESA (I never said anything about ESA or the moral character of our field or the moral character of individuals in our field and explicitly decoupled my post from the moral implications of the quote very early on).

    I don’t really personally agree with his first post either. I don’t draw a deep line between the sacred and the prosaic. We use bible stories, church building structure and etc regularly for analogies even when we’re not talking about sacred things because they are well-known and vivid. But I understand that some readers were offended, and I have no desire to do that. And mostly I don’t want to distract from the main point of the post.

  2. Morning Brian – Nice sequel to Jeremy’s post. On circles or spirals in ecology, I think it’s also important to think about the element of centrifugal force associated with circling and spiraling. Some ecologists fed up going in circles or impatient with a slow spiral do break away in novel directions, but many also are held back by the collective perspective in which they are formed as students. I take FE Clements as an example of detrimental inertial influence. His work as you point out is at the root of many contemporary ideas still in ecological circulation. He was, however, also a Lamarckian whose experimental studies on competition at the Carnegie Institution after 2016 were dedicated to countering Darwinian ideas – rather ironic in that Clausen, Keck and Hiesey were his colleagues. Add Clements and Weaver 1938 to your readings and, if you can find it, also Edith Clement’s summary of their (she and he, not Weaver) later work. I would argue that the force of Clements’ influence held plant ecology at arms length from the evolutionary synthesis of the 1930s and significantly impeded the development of evolutionary studies in plant ecology. Incremental process along a spiraling arc may well be useful, but perhaps some of the most useful advances involve reaching across to another spiraling arc in search of a useful synthesis. Best – Marty

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

    ________________________________

    • Interesting points about inertia. And especially the delay in linking plant ecology to the evolutionary synthesis. Reminds me of Kuhn and Planck’s quote about science advancing one funeral at a time.

      This might be partly why we have to go in circles. To oversimplify, early career scientists make a bunch or progress on a topic, then it gets crystalized and inertial and dogmatic until another generation comes along who can work not in the shadow of those who created the last round of dogma, tosses out the dogmas and refreshens it.

  3. I think a (possibly) useful alternative to your analogy is not to think of a crystallized geometric object, but instead of the following analogy. Imagine any field (especially multicausal and nonlinear ones such as ecology) as somewhat unexplored and vast regions of land. Scientists who colonise some new region will map out various structures, name some major landmarks etc, but they will only be able to go so far in the outer boundaries, and they will not be able to map out the intricacies found within any border of knowledge they create. So new generations of scientists will look in the nooks and crannies of already “colonised” land and find novel things, though as maps accumulate we don’t always recognize that many of these discoveries are older, and sometimes our perspective on them is different (sometimes better sometimes worse). As things are explored near the outer boundaries of the region, progress can be difficult, but I often think it is the understanding of well-trodden paths which allows us to go places which have truly not been explored before.

    This has a few differences with your geometric analogy. Firstly, I think many people are searching in very different directions at the same time. Sure, on average we might conceptualise the mainstream as a spiral or some variant of a circle, but I think this misses the random nature that often a new idea will emerge somewhere the mainstream wasn’t looking, but that it now shifts in this direction after mainstream interest has been piqued. Secondly, while I think there is some refinement in technical tools and abilities over time, I also think there can be refinement in abstraction, and our ability to do better about map-vs-territory distinctions. Of course there are fundamental limits to abstractions in some ways, but I do think that over time we can really appreciate something which has come before in a fundamentally different light. I would say this is definitely true of spatial population dynamics in the last 40 years or so, where the technical tools allow us to ask questions which were not possible to formulate so many years ago.

    • Sounds like the spreading dye null model of species distribution models. I like the analogy!

      And I agree – if I were to highlight one truly novel difference this last time around the circle it would be the emphasis on space (and I forecast that the next time around it will be the emphasis on time and non-equilibrial temporal dynamics)

  4. Very nice reflection! Yes, many ecologists disregard their field’s history. Sadly, it’s quite common to hear both junior and senior colleagues state that we don’t necessarily need to read foundational works to lay the ground for a new research project. Maybe that’s why our discipline goes in circles or spirals many times. Old bottles in new wines or the other way round. 😉

  5. Maybe it’s just my training in movement ecology, but I think a better model is a random walk with a slow diffusion upward (although I’ll grant there’s some cyclicity in there).

    Under that model, In any given year, the science might not advance that much, and might return to old ideas, but over a long enough horizon, intellectual development becomes apparent. I think that’s what happened in physics too, for that matter; there’s a 220 year (!) gap between Newton and Einstein, with a lot of messy debates that bounced back and forth in that whole period. But since we tend to focus on Whig intellectual histories of science, it looks a lot less messy. It’s like sampling a random walk with drift at big intervals; it looks like a steady increase over time.

    I’d also say that what progress consists of in ecology differs from physics; all of the concepts in ecology are actually pretty simple to explain; I’m not at all surprised that your 14 major questions are all in Clements; they aren’t that conceptually complicated (compared to, say, the wave-particle duality). Where ecology has really advanced is through methodology: we’re much better now at measuring things like competition, and assessing its relative effects on community dynamics. That’s why I think we’ve seen a shift in interest from “Clements-Gleason” to “range shifts under climate change”; the first is a somewhat muddy conceptual debate, the second is much more focused on quantifying relative strengths of abiotic and biotic forces on species distributions at large scales.

    • To me random walk implies that there are multiple directions the field could and we’re picking one of them randomly (or through accumulation of many small initial effects). Do you think that applies to ecology.

      I certainly agree the strongest trendline is improvement in methodology. I go back and forth on whether I think that matters if there is no trendline on our ability to answer big questions.

      • I was thinking of a 1-D random walk, moving upward (indicating improvement in the science). But honestly, I like Andrew Krause’s analogy, of exploring an unknown territory, better than I like my own.

        I do think there are many ways the field can go, and we’re exploring many of them at once. Having now moved from plant ecology, to theoretical ecology, to limnology, and then to applied fisheries ecology, one of the most striking things I’ve seen is how little contact there is between different branches of ecology; people who are huge names in one field are entirely unheard of by practitioners in other areas, and methods that are common in one place are ignored elsewhere.

        This diversity has let us tackle a lot of different problems, and I think it’s one of ecology’s strengths (no epistemic closure here!), but it has meant that good ideas and conceptual insights can be really slow to diffuse from one part of ecology to another.

      • I agree about the lack of connections between fields. I think it even applies to geography – I’m always amazed how isolated the North American and European intellectual millieus are even in this internet age.

  6. I picked “spiral”, and I bet that’s going to be the most popular reply by some distance.

    Am I right? 🙂

    Irrelevant ps: I like that you asked about sensible shapes, that have some comprehensible interpretation. Your question isn’t just a Rorschach test. I recall back when I was looking for undergrad colleges, I interviewed for an entrance scholarship with one college. The interview concluded by asking “if you could be a circle, triangle, or square, which would you be and why?” It was asked somewhat whimsically by the interviewer, so I think and hope the answers weren’t taken too seriously. But honestly, it annoyed me at the time that it was asked at all, because the question was so obviously silly. And yes, I know that probably one of the purposes of the question was to discover if the interviewee is the sort of person who finds such questions silly. But I thought (and still think) the question was silly even if it did somehow reveal relevant information about the interviewee, because there are other, non-silly questions that would reveal the same information.

  7. What kind of trajectory you have in ecology will depend mostly on whether problems can be solved with certainty that is, whether future generations just brings new ideas or whether they also uncover new kinds of evidence. IMO most future advances will hinge not on ecological thinking but on the development of new technologies that allow new kinds of evidence to be gathered. I recently read a book (“The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History”) where the author (Thor Hanson) attributed the emergence of the theory of evolution to new technologies: sailing ships that allowed people to travel worldwide many times in a lifetime and explore the world’s entire range of species.

    Expanding on Hanson’s idea, it seems like the rapid emergence of new technologies throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries fueled both new measurement techniques and human exploration of the planet and drove major revolutions in every science – culminating (?) in the advent of the modern computer. Fifty years ago we had equations that we didn’t have the computational power to solve, let alone iterate millions of time for modelling. Today it seems like we have more computational power than we can use effectively. Maybe it will take our theory a while to catch up again.

  8. On the themes of circularity and qualifying exams: a committee member of mine suggested I should read a book that had recently come out that was getting lots of attention. I read it and thought it was super cool. So, I was surprised when the committee member followed up with me and wasn’t nearly as positive as I was. His take was that it wasn’t really new stuff — just reframing of ideas that had been around for a long time without acknowledging the reframing. That was pretty eye opening for me as a grad student.

    • There are parts of many of sciences that go in continual circles, IMO because it’s difficult to find irrefutable “proof” of some things, leaving them open to attack from other ideas. In geology, for example, extinction events seem to have cyclically recurring explanations. Even though the mechanism for the KT extinction is seemingly well established, there are still rebel scientists advocating ecological theories. And though the explanation de jour for the PTr boundary is CO2/Decan Traps, the Traps have gone in and out of favor before.

      But supposing the Deccan Trapps explanation holds: then we have two examples where the “explanation cycle” is ended by the emergence of new technology. A major clue to the KT boundary explanation was the iridium spike, right? That kind of trace element measurement wasn’t available – or at least not cheap enough for routine use – prior to the 1980s or thereabouts. Nor, prior to the ~1980s, could we have seismically imaged the Chixclub(sp?) crater. The CO2 explanation for the PTr boundary could have been advanced prior to the 1980s, I don’t know if it was, but it would never have been as convincing without the massive amount of advanced technology that’s been thrown at the CO2/temperature relationship over the last few decades. And we can probably thank the satellite temperature record for providing the most “irrefutable” part of the warming temperature trend, as seems certain that the highly manipulated land-based global average temperature record would always be subject to attack.

      So IMO science rarely advances by scientific thought – which mostly dresses old ideas up in new clothes. It advances by new forms of measurements driven by new technologies.

      No doubt, someone, somewhere, has already advanced a hypothesis of a science of the circularity of science.

  9. I voted for other: Random walk (diffusion) + weak advection towards some true/consensus state. Since the advection term is weak/slow it can give the appearance of cyclic behaviour or random walk behaviour. After all, a random walk in 1 & 2 dimensions will always eventually return to the starting point.

    • “After all, a random walk in 1 & 2 dimensions will always eventually return to the starting point.”

      Trust a stochastic dynamics expert to take the analogy too literally… 🙂

      Plus, isn’t that only true on a bounded 1 or 2 dimensional surface?

      • 😉 doesn’t require a bounded surface (as long as you don’t mind an infinite expected time to return). Although the infinite expected return time is a bit deceiving because a very low fraction of walkers take a very long time to return, which is what is causing the expectation not to converge to a finite number. Interestingly, the probability of return (not only once) but infinitely many times in one. And now I’ve taken the analogy even more literally 😉

      • I assume the snapping sound I just heard was the sound of you stretching the analogy until it broke. 🙂

        Analogies take a lot of abuse around here. 🙂

      • Now I’m disappointed that Brian didn’t include “advection-diffusion process on an infinite fractal-dimensional landscape” as an option in the poll.

  10. So, for anyone who picked the “circle” or “spiral” options, some questions:
    -what’s the period of ecology’s “cycle”? And is it getting shorter or longer over time, or staying roughly constant?
    -what older papers/books are once again relevant now that ecology has circled back to ideas/concepts/approaches that were last relevant X years ago (where X is the current cycle period)?

    • I think Brian’s estimate of 25-30 years is in the right ballpark, though I’d look toward the short end of that, at least for some topics. Thinking about an area where you (Jeremy) and I both work, spatial synchrony, if we start at Moran 1953, which I’d take to be toward the end of a peak of interest in large-area population cycles, then, roughly 25 years later we get metapopulation theory and works bringing chaos and nonlinear dynamics into population ecology. I don’t see those as focused on synchrony per se but would argue contributed a lot to how we think about it now. And then in the late 1990s into the early 2000s we get a new pulse of work on synchrony, where I think Ottar Bjornstad’s contributions to quantifying synchrony and its spatial patterns in empirical data have been particularly influential. And then we seem to be in another peak of interest in synchrony driven in large part by timescale-specific approaches. Does that jive with your interpretation?

      As far as whether the cycle length is changing over time, if I had to guess I’d say it’s decreasing but I don’t have much evidence or much confidence in that guess. I have two reasons for suspecting that. The first is that I do think a good bit of progress in ecology is driven by technological improvement: one of the reasons that topics wane in popularity is that we get about as far as we can with the technology we have, but eventually something new emerges that allow us to measure something better than before and so that topic becomes popular again. And the pace of technological change certainly seems to be accelerating. The second is that I suspect the number of ecologists is increasing at a faster rate than is the breadth of questions ecologists ask, and this probably creates pressure to return to topics that had fallen out of fashion at a quicker pace. Even if that’s not a conscious choice, the increasing volume of papers we produce must be making it easier to forget/miss entirely the work of a decade or two ago, contributing to the old-wine-in-new-bottles phenomenon. It doesn’t even really surprise me anymore when I find a paper from 10 or 20 years ago, on a topic that I care about, but had never read before.

      • I agree with your potted history of spatial synchrony work in population ecology. But I’m reluctant to generalize from an n of 1 and say anything about the typical recurrence rate of interest in any given ecological topic. 🙂 Especially given that spatial synchrony has always been a pretty niche topic. I’d expect that recurrence of interest in niche topics would be pretty stochastic. Like, if Ottar doesn’t come along, is there any revival of interest in spatial synchrony at all?

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