Ecological Experimentation: Strengths and Conceptual Problems

  • David Tilman


The ecological world is a multi-causal system in which patterns result from the direct effects of physical factors, from intraspecific and interspecific biotic interactions, and from indirect and feedback effects of one species or system element on another. As such, there is no single, simple approach that can ever unambiguously demonstrate how or why a particular process, physical factor, or species has an effect on another element of the ecosystem. Although this chapter will critically evaluate the potential contributions of experimentation to ecological understanding, I must stress at the outset that ecological research requires a synthetic approach in which observational, experimental, and theoretical approaches are pursued in a simultaneous, coordinated, interactive manner.


Interspecific Competition Ecological Research Nitrogen Addition Conceptual Problem Transient Dynamic 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bender, E.A., T.J. Case, and M.E. Gilpin (1984). Perturbation experiments in community ecology: theory and practice. Ecology 65:1–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brenchley, W., and K. Warington (1958). The Park Grass Plots at Rothamsted. Rothamsted Experimental Station, Harpendon, U.K., 144 pp.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, J.H., D.W. Davidson, J.C. Munger, and R.S. Inouye (1986). In: Community Ecology (J. Diamond and T.J. Case, eds.). Harper and Row, New York, pp. 41–62.Google Scholar
  4. Connell, J. (1983a). On the prevalence and relative importance of interspecific competition: evidence from field experiments. American Naturalist 122:661–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Connell, J. (1983b). Interpreting the results of field experiments: effects of indirect interactions. Oikos 41:290–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Connell, J., and R. Sousa (1983). On the evidence needed to judge ecological stability or persistence. American Naturalist 121:789–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Darwin, C. (1859). The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. (Reprinted by The Modern Library, Random House, New York.)Google Scholar
  8. Davis, M.B. (1981). Quaternary history and the stability of forest communities. In: Forest Succession. (D.C. West, H.H. Shugart, and D.B. Botkin, eds.). Springer-Verlag, New York, pp. 132–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hairston, N.G. (1980). The experimental test of an analysis of field distributions: competition in terrestrial salamanders. Ecology 61:817–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Holt, R.D. (1977). Predation, apparent competition and the structure of prey communities. Theoretical Population Biology 12:197–5.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Huribert, S.H. (1984). Pseudoreplication and the design of ecological field experiments. Ecological Monographs 54:187–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hutchinson, G.E. (1978). An Introduction to Population Ecology. Yale University Press, 260 pp.Google Scholar
  13. Jeffreys, H. (1931). Scientific Inference. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Johnston, A.E. (1986). Soil organic matter, effects on soils and crops. Soil Use and Management 2:97–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Johnston, A.E., K.W.T. Goulding, and P.R. Poulton (1986). Soil acidification during more than 100 years under permanent grassland and woodland at Rothamsted. Soil Use and Management 2:3–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lawes, J., and J. Gilbert (1880). Agricultural, botanical and chemical results of experiments on the mixed herbage of permanent grassland, conducted for many years in succession on the same land. I. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 171:189–5.Google Scholar
  17. Lawes, J., J. Gilbert, and M. Masters (1882). Agricultural, botanical and chemical results of experiments on the mixed herbage of permanent meadow, conducted for more than twenty years on the same land. II. The botanical results. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 173:1181–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lawlor, L.R. (1979). Direct and indirect effects of n-species competition. Oecologia 43:355–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Levine, S.H. (1976). Competitive interactions in ecosystems. American Naturalist 110:903–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lewontin, R.C. (1969). The meaning of stability. In: Diversity and Stability in Ecological Systems. Brookhaven Symposium on Biology, no. 22, pp. 13–24.Google Scholar
  21. Lutz, H.J. (1945). Vegetation on a trenched plot twenty-one years after establishment. Ecology 26:200–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. May, R.M. (1977). Thresholds and breakpoints in ecosystems with a multiplicity of stable states. Nature 269:471–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. May, R.M. (1979). The structure and dynamics of ecological communities. In: Population Biology (R.M. Anderson, B.D. Turner, and L.R. Taylor, eds.). Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, pp. 385–407.Google Scholar
  24. Patten, B.C. (1982). Environs: relativistic elementary particles for ecology. American Naturalist 119:179–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Schoener, T.W. (1983). Field experiments on interspecific competition. American Naturalist 122:240–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Sih, A., P. Crowley, M. McPeck, J. Petraaka, and K. Strohmeier (1985). Predation, competition, and prey communities: a review of field experiments. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 16:269–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Silvertown, J. (1980). The dynamics of a grassland ecosystem: Botanical equilibrium in the park grass experiment. Journal of Applied Ecology 17:491–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Snaydon, R.W. (1976). Genetic change within species. In: J.M. Thurston, G.V. Dyke, and E.D. Williams, The Park Grass Experiment. Rothamsted Biological Station.Google Scholar
  29. Snaydon, R.W., and M.S. Davies (1972). Rapid population differentiation in a mosaic environment. II. Morphological variation in Anthoxanthum odoratum. Evolution 26:390–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Strobeck, C. (1973). N species competition. Ecology 54:650–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tilman, D. (1982). Resource Competition and Community Structure. Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Tilman, D. (1987a). Secondary succession and the pattern of plant dominance along experimental nitrogen gradients. Ecological Monographs 57:189–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tilman, D. (1987b). The importance of the mechanisms of interspecific competition. American Naturalist 129:769–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Tilman, D. (1988). Plant Strategies and the Dynamics and Structure of Plant Communities. Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Tourney, J.W., and R. Kienholz (1931). Trenched Plots Under Forest Canopies. Yale University, School of Forestry Bulletin no. 30.Google Scholar
  36. Vandermeer, J.H. (1980). Indirect mutualism: variations on a theme by Steven Levine. American Naturalist 116:441–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Tilman

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations