Fast and slow advances toward a deeper integration of theory and empiricism

Abstract

In this article, we present a modern commentary on Ludwig, Jones, and Holling’s classic paper, “Qualitative analysis of insect outbreak systems: the spruce budworm and forest,” published in the Journal of Animal Ecology in 1978. In contrast to papers that become classics for advancing one big idea, Ludwig et al.’s contribution is striking for its breadth of impact. It has become a foundational reference in areas as disparate as insect ecology and management, alternative stable states, the effects of natural enemies, and the separation of time scales between fast- and slow-changing variables. Interestingly, the paper is not generally remembered as an attempt to bridge the divide between theoretical and empirical ecologists, as we will show, even though this is how the authors motivated their work. In this commentary, we examine the expected and unexpected ways Ludwig et al. (J Anim Ecol 47:315–332, 1978) have found a place in modern ecological thought.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Sam Catella, Angie Lenard, Brian Lerch, Amy Patterson, Robin Snyder, and Alex Strang for helpful comments and discussion on an earlier draft. Steve Ellner and an anonymous reviewer provided insights and suggestions that improved the final article. The idea to print modern commentaries on classic papers in Theoretical Ecology was devised by Alan Hastings and supported by the editorial board, and we are grateful for the opportunity to contribute. Thank you to the 785 Twitter users who participated in our poll, and to Andrew MacDonald for helping to disseminate the poll.

Funding

KCA and FJ received partial support from a James S. McDonnell Foundation Complex Systems Scholar Grant during the completion of this work.

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Correspondence to Karen C. Abbott.

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Abbott, K.C., Ji, F., Stieha, C.R. et al. Fast and slow advances toward a deeper integration of theory and empiricism. Theor Ecol 13, 7–15 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12080-019-00441-x

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Keywords

  • Alternative stable states
  • Insect outbreaks
  • Ludwig et al. (1978)
  • Qualitative analysis
  • Separation of timescales
  • Spruce budworm
  • Theory and empiricism