, Volume 213, Issue 11, pp 1769-1780
Date: 29 Sep 2012

Topical gradients in plant ecology

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Abstract

Plant ecology spans multiple levels of biological organization and spatio-temporal scales, and over four dozen plant ecology textbooks have been published since Warming’s (1895) ‘Oecology of Plants.’ With increasing emphasis on specialization, students and teachers can feel paralyzed by the vast literature, and as such may lack an adequate appreciation of the history of the field. The objective of this study was to derive a comprehensive set of topics that are covered in plant ecology textbooks, and to ask (1) what are the most important topical gradients among textbooks, and (2) has the emphasis of topics changed over time? The NMS ordination determined that the first gradient represented a clear contrast in emphasis on physiological ecology versus community ecology. The second gradient represented a contrast in emphasis on abiotic environmental factors versus biotic factors. Negative interactions, growth, demography, gas exchange, mineral nutrition, stress, diversity, disturbance, herbivory, paleoecology, ecosystem ecology, pollution, and global change have increased in emphasis over time. The increasing reliance on data and the number of authors per textbook illustrates how the discipline has matured into a rigorous quantitative science that requires a diversity of specializations. These results can be used to inform the development of curricula within a single course or across several years of study, and to assist the development of new and revised textbooks. Plant ecologists need to be familiar with this core set of topics in addition to becoming an expert in a few of them.