What are the primary mechanisms controlling the origin and maintenance of biodiversity? This question has fascinated and perplexed biologists since at least the time of Charles Darwin in the 19th century. Despite nearly two centuries of inquiry, scientists still do not know why, for example, there are more tree species in some 50-hectare plots of tropical rainforest than in all of North America. Nevertheless, scientists are now addressing this question with renewed urgency because of growing societal concerns about biodiversity conservation, and responses of biodiversity to global environmental change.
This working group is aimed at integrating three distinct areas of ecological theory in order to develop a prediction-rich synthetic framework for the structure and dynamics of biodiversity. Our goal is not to summarize the research conducted to date, but rather to cross disciplinary boundaries and specializations in order to quantify the effects of individual energetics, stochasticity, and spatial heterogeneity in the environment on biodiversity. We anticipate a vigorous and systematic attack on this problem by researchers committed to improving their theories by confronting them with data. This proposed theory synthesis promises to deepen our basic understanding of biodiversity, to set an agenda for future research, and to help address current environmental problems.