The Theory of Ecology
edited by Samuel M. Scheiner and Michael R. Willig
University of Chicago Press, 2011
Cloth: 978-0-226-73685-3 | Paper: 978-0-226-73686-0 | Electronic: 978-0-226-73687-7


Despite claims to the contrary, the science of ecology has a long history of building theories. Many ecological theories are mathematical, computational, or statistical, though, and rarely have attempts been made to organize or extrapolate these models into broader theories. The Theory of Ecology brings together some of the most respected and creative theoretical ecologists of this era to advance a comprehensive, conceptual articulation of ecological theories. The contributors cover a wide range of topics, from ecological niche theory to population dynamic theory to island biogeography theory. Collectively, the chapters ably demonstrate how theory in ecology accounts for observations about the natural world and how models provide predictive understandings. It organizes these models into constitutive domains that highlight the strengths and weaknesses of ecological understanding. This book is a milestone in ecological theory and is certain to motivate future empirical and theoretical work in one of the most exciting and active domains of the life sciences.


Samuel M. Scheiner is a theoretical biologist and has been on the faculty of Northern Illinois University and Arizona State University. Michael R. Willig is professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering, both at the University of Connecticut.


The Theory of Ecology provides a simple framework for interpreting the multifaceted role of theory in the field of ecology. This approach is unique, extremely brave, contentious at times, but definitely intriguing.”

— Kevin McCann, University of Guelph

“Scheiner and Willig have assembled a highly valuable compendium of reviews and perspectives on theoretical ecology, including contributions from many of the leaders in the field. This will undoubtedly provide grist for many undergraduate and graduate courses, as well as a stimulus to the whole field of ecology.”

— Simon A. Levin, Princeton University

The Theory of Ecology will enliven the debate over what should encompass a general theory of ecology—and whether that is even possible.”

— Michael M. Fuller, BioScience

"[T]his volume signifies the maturation of ecological theory exploration. Highly recommended."

— F. N. Egerton, Choice

“The editors have put together a well-structured and comprehensible framework for organizing ecological theory. The contributing authors show how the framework, when applied to various theories, can help to clarify what a theory is all about.”

— Jonathan Borrelli, Quarterly Review of Biology




1. A General Theory of Ecology

Perspectives on the Role of Theory in Ecology

2. Theory Makes Ecology Evolve

3. A General, Unifying Theory of Ecology?

Constituent Theories of Ecology

4. Foraging Theory

5. Ecological Niche Theory

6. Single Species Population Dynamics and Its Theoretical Underpinnings

7. Natural Enemy-Victim Interactions: Do We Have a Unified Theory Yet?

8. The Metacommunity Concept and Its Theoretical Underpinnings

9. Domain and Propositions of Succession Theory

10. The Equilibrium Theory of Island Biogeography

11. Theory of Ecosystem Ecology

12. Perspectives on Global Change Theory

13. Ecological Gradient Theory: A Framework for Aligning Data and Models

14. Biogeographical Gradient Theory


15. The State of Theory in Ecology