Seeing the forest and the trees: On the very idea of an ecological community

I. Introduction. Throughout the history of ecology, there have been many different views held about the nature of ecological communities. Some ecologists have argued that they exist mind-independently with discrete boundaries and others have contended that they are merely ephemeral collections of species with minimal interactions. In this essay, first I provide an analysis of the concept of ecological community; or better yet, community concepts. Second, I consider the most serious challenge to the reality of ecological communities; what is called gradient analysis pioneered by Robert Whittaker. I argue that many have misinterpreted the results of gradient analysis and that properly construed the existence of communities, and more specifically, community properties are not threatened. Finally, I sketch how the debate over the reality of communities matters to environmental policy.
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