Introduction

The criticism that ecology as a whole lacks universal laws and predictive theory is frequent, and there are authors who even argue that theoretical ecology concerned for instance with fitness and natural selection is not scientific (Murray, 2001).

Scientific observations on natural phenomena usually give origin to possible explanations and, furthermore, provide tentative generalizations that may lead to broad-scale comprehension of the available information. Generalizations may be descriptive and inductive, deriving from observations carried out on observable characteristics, or become much more eager, constituting the base of deductive theories. In ecology, we must recognize that there are basically no universal laws (maybe such laws cannot even exist in the same sense as those in physics). In fact, most explanations in ecology are inductive generalizations, without any deductive theory behind them, and as a consequence we may find a large number of non-universal tentative generalizations.

As explained earlier in the book, regarding features such as immense number problem, growth and decay, and network interrelations, ecology is more complex than physics, and it will, therefore, be much more difficult to develop an applicable, predictive ecological theory. Testing explanatory hypotheses by verification instead of by falsification is perhaps the easiest way. But many ecologists probably feel inwards the need for a more general and integrative theory that may help in explaining their observations and experimental results.

In the last 20 or 30 years several new ideas, approaches, and hypotheses appeared in the field of systems ecology, which when analyzed more deeply appear to form a pattern of theories able to explain the dynamics of ecosystems (Jorgensen, 1997, 2002). And in fact, due to the complexity involved, we probably need a number of different complementary approaches to explain ecosystem structure and function (Jorgensen, 1994a; Fath et al., 2001). Such ecosystem theories were only used in a limited way in ecological modeling, namely in the development of non-stationary models, able to take into account the adaptation of biological components (Jorgensen, 1986, 1992b, 1994b, 1997; Jorgensen and de Bernardi, 1997, 1998). It has been argued that to improve substantially the predictive power of ecological models it will probably be necessary to apply theoretical approaches much more widely (Jorgensen and Marques, 2001).

Nevertheless, the question remains: is it possible to develop a theoretical framework able to explain the numerous observations, rules, and correlations dispersed in the ecological literature during the last few decades?

Although we may have no sound answer to this question, it has been argued (Jorgensen and Marques, 2001) that it should at least be possible to propose a promising direction for ecological thinking. The idea in this chapter is to check the compliance of ecosystem principles to a number of ecological rules or laws, and to see if other proposed non-universal explanations provided by different authors about different ecological problems can be further enlightened according to the same ecological principles.

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