Does population ecology have general laws?

Peter Turchin
Oikos April 10, 2003 Journal Link PDF


There is a widespread opinion among ecologists that ecology lacks general laws. In this paper I argue that this opinion is mistaken. Taking the case of population dynamics, I point out that there are several very general law-like propositions that provide the theoretical basis for most population dynamics models that were developed to address specific issues. Some of these foundational principles, like the law of exponential growth, are logically very similar to certain laws of physics (Newton's law of inertia, for example, is almost a direct analogue of exponential growth). I discuss two other principles (population self-limitation and resource-consumer oscillations), as well as the more elementary postulates that underlie them. None of the “laws” that I propose for population ecology are new. Collectively ecologists have been using these general principles in guiding development of their models and experiments since the days of Lotka, Volterra, and Gause.
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