Proposed symposium for ESA 2004

Decision to be made early January 2004
Title Proposal:A “new” paradigm for community ecology: building from functional ecology
Proposal Description:Traditionally, community ecology has sought mechanisms in the population dynamics of species. However, this approach has often resulted in highly phenomenological models. This approach also may have reached inherent limits such as chaotic dynamics. Community ecology is beginning to experience a revival due to the introduction of alternative paradigms such as macroecology, microcosms, and phylogenetic analysis. This symposium seeks to show how a focus on functional ecology can lead to a mechanistic and predictive framework for community ecology. We define functional ecology as the study of how quantitative attributes of organisms respond to biotic and abiotic factors, often involving the study of behavioral and physiological traits at the level of the individual. There are clear roots to these ideas in classical community ecology (e.g Shelford’s Law of Toleration and the early papers on optimal foraging) and some of the speakers have practiced this approach for decades. However, the last few years have seen a rapid increase in devotion to this approach. This symposium seeks to demonstrate the potential of this paradigm through some of the best work done to date. The paradigm presented in this proposal also has important implicatons for applied ecology. Typically, applied problems desire to explore outcomes at the community level due to changes in the environment (e.g. global warming, pollution, increased habitat patchiness). The proposed paradigm of building from functional ecology (responses of individuals to a changing context) directly addresses this need and provides a predictive framework.
Justification:This proposed symposium should be of broad interest to ESA members due to its focus on many levels of organization (physiology, behavior, population dynamics, and community structure) and due to its inclusion of all types of organisms (e.g. plants, rodents, birds, insects). The topic is important for both basic and applied reasons. On a basic research level, community ecology is a central subject in ecology, and any new paradigm which can accelerate progress is crucial. The approach of this symposium also directly and elegantly addresses applied questions as discussed in the description. We are lucky that out of six invitations we received six enthusiastic and affirmative responses, indicating the timeliness of the topic. The set of speakers provide a good mix of early/late career, basic/applied, and various backgrounds and perspectives (e.g. still using/rejecting population dynamics). The topic is novel and controversial enough to generate considerable interest; we expect a lively discussion at the end.

1. Brian McGill - Michigan State. Introduction & The functional ecology of abundance across a species range (20)

2. Brian Enquist - U of Arizona. Allometry and community structure in plant communities (25)

3. Michael Rosenzweig - U of Arizona. Habitat choice and community dynamics (25)

4. David Ackerly* - Stanford University. Plant functional traits and the community (25)

5. Paul Keddy* - Southeastern Lousiana University. Plant traits and community assembly (25)

6. Andrew Guttierez - UC Berkley. Supply-demand models of community dynamics (25)

7. Gary Mittelbach* - Michigan State. Exploring functional mechanisms driving the latitudinal diversity gradient (25)

8. Mark Westoby - Macquarie University. Going from plant traits to community ecology (25)

9. Panel discussion with questions from the floor and answers by the speakers (15)

*Committments tentative to some degree