, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 4–13 | Cite as

Taking the Mumbo Out of the Jumbo: Progress Towards a Robust Basis for Ecological Scaling

  • Robert J. ScholesEmail author
20th Anniversary Paper


The challenges of the Anthropocene have forced ecologists into the public space, to contend with issues manifest at scales of tens of kilometers and more, unfolding over decades to centuries. Our long fascination with issues of scale is no longer academic. We need to be able to aggregate observations and process understanding derived at the scale of a homogeneous patch to the landscape, region, and the world, and disaggregate changes and limits at the planetary scale to their local outcomes and responses. Several robust approaches to scale-appropriate research and translation in ecology are becoming widely used, but the observation technologies have in some respects outrun both the theory and the general practice for scaling up and scaling down. The project for the next decade is to work simultaneously at multiple scales, using mechanistic, reduced-form, and empirical models to link the scales. The issues related to scale transitions are a manifestation in the spatial and temporal domain of the general problem of ‘emergence,’ which remains suspect in ecology, because it seems to invoke an element of magic. A key challenge for all complex system science, including ecology, is to make the prediction of patterns at one scale from mechanisms operating at different scales into a respectable and reliable practice.


scale spatial temporal emergence complexity downscaling upscaling 


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Global Change and Sustainability Research InstituteUniversity of the WitwatersrandWitsSouth Africa

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