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The Balance of Nature? Ecological Issues in the Conservation of Species and Communities

by on September 12, 2011



Stuart L. Pimm’s writing in his book The Balance of Nature? Ecological Issues in the Conservation of Species and Communities reads like the first day of class in an Introduction to Ecology course. Initially, Pimm familiarizes the reader with study of ecology and the practices of ecologists, more specifically community ecologists. To understand the work that an ecologist does, one must recognize the questions that one would ask, such as what to study, for how long, and over what specific area. Pimm stresses the fact that to understand communities and their relationships we must study “organizational, temporal, and spatial scales” (Pimm 2) within ecological stability, otherwise known as the balance of nature.

After the introduction, Pimm delivers a brief history of pioneers and theorists of ecology and ecological stability. Throughout the chapter’s history lesson, Pimm discusses both the extreme importance and severe drawbacks of the necessity of theories, hypotheses, and models in the world of this complex scientific study. Without these theories, hypotheses, and models, it would be nearly impossible to completely understand the complexity of the interactions between species and their community, and that community and the physical environment.

Towards the end of the chapter, Pimm discusses the syllabus of the course, laying out the structure of the rest of the book. The following chapters will deeply discuss the resilience, persistence, resistance and variability of species and their populations. The end of the chapter leaves the reader with a brief background on the study of ecological stability, and prepared to delve deeper into the complexity of the balance of nature.

  1. The beginning chapter of Pimm’s book is very interesting in my opinion; much of which was carefully constructed in consideration of her audience.

    In the first chapter of Stuart L. Pimm’s book, The Balance of Nature? Ecological Issues in the Conservation of Species, Pimm argues the correlation between community ecology and long-term population ecology, along with the present necessity to transition ecological research from smaller to larger scale where, “the important applied problems lie”(Pimm, 11). The reformed scales would ideal consist of, “ten to one hundred species, time scales from ten to one hundred years, and spatial scales certainly orders of magnitude larger than most ecological field experiments”(Pimm, 5). Pimm references the studies of the historical literature of Elton and McAuthr, not to support the stance on scaling, but to provide a connection between the origin of her book and their findings on community structure. In my opinion, Pimm is correlating these prominent ecological works to possible capture more traditional ecologist before bluntly criticizing former models and assumptions made in past ecological research.

    Pimm addresses possible criticisms with her book with harsh language and then concludes that these flawed assumptions and models are necessary, as these methods cannot be applied to her vision of the ideal scale. This becomes problematic, in my opinion, because while she argues ecologists don’t have a choice but to move towards models that will permit wider-scale research, as it provides essential information, Pimm doesn’t provide any possible method of resolution. Instead, Pimm explains ecologists, herself included, will suffice unhappily with the current method.

  2. This article is interesting in the way it analyzes how ecological studies and the various viewpoints about them have developed over time. In Pimm’s opinion, ecological studies should be scaled up. Environments are not static; understanding comes with time and if ecological studies are too brief knowledge can be lost.

  3. Frederick Reisen permalink

    I was happy to read Pimm’s view on the current state of ecology and the overwhelming message I got despite what her aim might have been is the necessary importance of studying Ecology. I felt what she was saying is that regardless of flaws and possible shortcomings any sort of attention to a whole system is important. However, I believe that tearing apart current methods and studies without providing any sort of alternative is not a very helpful endeavor. The question I have for her is what can we do with what we have already observed and recorded be applied in new ways to maybe discover broader patterns? Would this be acceptable or do yo have to scrap all previous ecological studies and start over?

  4. Megan Powell permalink

    Pimm has very strict ideas about the way in which ecological studies should be carried out and, more specifically what their scope should be and that it should be much larger than it has previously been. I agree with her point in that I think it would provide a much greater basis of knowledge of the interaction between species, communities, and their environments. But, other hand, I found her ideas to be idealistic and unrealistic, which is evidenced in the fact that she kind of gives up in the end and resigns herself to follow the current method.

  5. vcowdrey permalink

    What struck me as most interesting in Pimm’s article is the use of the word “scale,” and the importance that it has in better understanding a species or culture. I have only known the world scale in architectural terms as the various levels at which one can interpret a design or, better yet, when performing site analysis of a specific area. The importance of scale cannot be emphasized more in the architecture, but I had not thought about them in depth in the field of anthropology. Pimm uses a great example for the importance of scale when he talked about “long-term population ecology.”(4) Population nor community structure are static and should be observed over time to get a better grasp on the inter-workings of the area. But it is “the problem of scaling up our understanding from the one-to-three year studies that are the staple of our science to the decades-to-centuries scales of our major problems,” (3) that proves to be most difficult.

  6. After i read this article, i had similar thoughts and questions as Frederick that pertain to the research and understanding of ecology that have already been done. Pimm made it very clear that past understandings of ecological studies are confusing and invalid conclusions that not everyone agrees upon. I am also curious as to whether or not Pimm believes that it would be best if all anthropologists and ecologists completely disregarded past research and beliefs and started from scratch. It seems necessary that at some point, a decision needs to be made on what means what and how effective research is by using larger scales of species and time.

  7. janellekramer permalink

    I really appreciate the fact that Pimm addresses the scales that most ecological studies are in. He says that to understand conservation, ecologists need to study larger ecosystems over a greater period of time. I agree because in order to know what conservation efforts would be the most effective, we would need to know exactly how ecosystems work over time, not just in a year or two.

  8. 242colleencarey permalink

    In the last several weeks of class we’ve discussed ecological studies. These dicussions have proven that there isn’t one definition, or one scale that ecological studies follow. Pimm’s article reveals that there are multiple scales and one must take into account numerous aspects in order to understand an ecostystem. This idea is summed up in the last sentence of Pimm’s introduction when he says, “In short, to understand dynamics on longer time scaled and over larger areas, we must develop community-based theories.” Pimm is implying the need to look over long periods of time and develop alternative theories to the traditional ones anthropologists use. I think this proposal is interesting because in many of our readings we have come across these ideas of implementing new theories and methods into anthropological studies. What does this mean? How is this going to shape future anthropology?

  9. i appreciate the fact that Pimm sets up his work like and “ecology for dummies.” meaning i like how he starts with the basics of what ecology is, what ecologist do, little background history, and leads us into the topic of “balance of nature.” i have begun to notice that many authors that we have read tend to dive right in and i feel a little left behind, so it was refreshing to have a little ecology 101 laid out for me. pimms acknowledges that “Without these theories, hypotheses, and models, it would be nearly impossible to completely understand the complexity of the interactions between species and their community, and that community and the physical environment.” i commend the fact that pimms thinks there are many aspects that need to be examined and looked at in order to achieve this “balance of nature.”

  10. Though I feel that Pimm is questioning the validity of past methods, data, and observations, I feel that she has at least recognized the necessity of these things. In response to Fred’s question to Pimm- I feel that there needs to be a blend of what has already been learned and what still needs to be learned via new methods. I think that its important to maintain a sort of level of adaptation to progress in what I believe to be an ever changing world.

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