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National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis

Project Description

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.

Principal Investigator(s)

Andrew P. Allen, Jessica L. Green, Stephen P. Hubbell, Pablo A. Marquet

Project Dates

Start: September 1, 2007

End: September 1, 2009



Andrew P. Allen
University of California, Santa Barbara
Jayanth Banavar
Pennsylvania State University
James H. Brown
University of New Mexico
T. Jonathan Davies
University of California, Santa Barbara
Jennifer A. Dunne
Santa Fe Institute
Brian J. Enquist
University of Arizona
James F. Gillooly
University of Florida
Patty Gowaty
University of California, Los Angeles
Jessica L. Green
University of Oregon
John Harte
University of California, Berkeley
Stephen P. Hubbell
University of California, Los Angeles
Jeffrey K. Lake
Michigan State University
Amos Maritan
Padova University
Pablo A. Marquet
University of California, Santa Barbara
Carlos J. Melian
University of California, Santa Barbara
James O'Dwyer
University of Oregon
Jordan G. Okie
University of New Mexico
Annette Ostling
University of Michigan
Mark Ritchie
Syracuse University
Van M. Savage
Harvard University Indonesia Program
Igor Volkov
Pennsylvania State University
Geoffrey B. West
Santa Fe Institute
Tommaso Zillio
University of Alberta


  1. Journal Article / 2008

    Diversity emerging: From competitive exclusion to neutral coexistence in ecosystems

  2. Journal Article / 2014

    On theory in ecology

  3. Journal Article / 2010

    Field theory for biogeography: A spatially explicit model for predicting patterns of biodiversity

  4. Journal Article / 2012

    Do fitness-equalizing tradeoffs lead to neutral communities?