Ecology

Are there universal laws of ecology?

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This seems like such a non-Darwinian topic for The Scientist (shades of structuralism!):

There is a debate raging in ecology about whether there are ecological laws, analogous to the universal rules that underpin physics and mathematics. This discussion is important for a number of reasons. According to some, laws are the true mark of a scientific discipline, so ecology’s status as a branch of science hinges on the outcome. The existence of ecological laws could also make a difference to the practice of ecology.

If there are no laws to be discovered, ecologists would seem to be in the business of merely supplying a suite of localized models. These models would be assessed for their empirical adequacy in specific contexts, but not for their ability to capture universal truths. If, on the other hand, ecology does have laws, this invites further exploration into what these laws are and what their utility might be in describing ecological dynamics.

Mark Colyvan, John Damuth, and Lev R. Ginzburg, “The Dawn of Universal Ecology” at The Scientist

Sounds promising. If physics depends on mathematics and chemistry depends on physics and biology depends on chemistry, why could not be laws be derived that help us understand ecology?

But then Malthus betrays the authors, as he misled Darwin:

Take the core ecological principle that, when resources are unlimited, populations grow exponentially. This principle, posited by Thomas Malthus in 1798, could be regarded as the cornerstone of population ecology. Ecologists have every reason to believe that this principle is perfectly generalizable. After all, it is a logical extension of the idea that every organism produces as many offspring as it can. A failure of exponential growth would require a systematic reduction in the overall reproductive output. In a system with limitless resources, such a decline would be inexplicable. Mark Colyvan, John Damuth, and Lev R. Ginzburg, “The Dawn of Universal Ecology” at The Scientist

If the authors consider humans an organism, how do they account for the fact that we famously do NOT produce as many offspring as we can? What grew exponentially was human civilization; numbers are a variable factor.

Do we actually know that most life forms produce as many offspring as they can? Some of us would suggest more study.

8 Replies to “Are there universal laws of ecology?

  1. 1

    No, Malthus was wrong. Many species are observed to limit their reproduction when the location gets crowded. Many plants produce less seed under crowded conditions. I believe the same rule has been observed in animals too. By contrast, during times of drought, oaks produce more acorns. So there is active control over Malthus’ law.

  2. 2
    Bob O'H says:

    Robert – if you write “Malthus was wrong” it’s not helpful to then write something that agrees with Malthus.

  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    The notion that a debate about laws in ecology is raging is nonsense. I know this because I wrote a paper on this about 15 years ago, and it’s been cited 25 times and only once since 2015): to put that in context, I’m a co-author on a paper about fire in the Carpathians which was published in 2017, and has been cited 27 times already. Frankly, most ecologists don’t care, they’re too busy doing ecology.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    As to:

    “According to some, laws are the true mark of a scientific discipline, so ecology’s status as a branch of science hinges on the outcome.”

    In regards to that comment, it is interesting to note that, “Hard sciences are built on foundations of mathematics or definitive simulations. ,,, there exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution. According to our current understanding, there never will be.,,,”

    “There exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution. Hard sciences are built on foundations of mathematics or definitive simulations. Examples include electromagnetics, Newtonian mechanics, geophysics, relativity, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, optics, and many areas in biology. Those hoping to establish Darwinian evolution as a hard science with a model have either failed or inadvertently cheated. These models contain guidance mechanisms to land the airplane squarely on the target runway despite stochastic wind gusts. Not only can the guiding assistance be specifically identified in each proposed evolution model, its contribution to the success can be measured, in bits, as active information.,,,”,,, “there exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution. According to our current understanding, there never will be.,,,”
    – Robert J. Marks II – Top Ten Questions and Objections to ‘Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics’ – June 12, 2017
    https://evolutionnews.org/2017/06/top-ten-questions-and-objections-to-introduction-to-evolutionary-informatics/

    And the primary reason why nobody has ever been able to build a realistic mathematical model for Darwinian evolution, (and therefore turn evolution into a ‘hard science’), is simply because there is no known ‘law of evolution’ within the physical universe for mathematicians and physicists to ever build a realistic mathematical model for evolution upon. As Ernst Mayr himself conceded, “In biology, as several other people have shown, and I totally agree with them, there are no natural laws in biology corresponding to the natural laws of the physical sciences.”

    The Evolution of Ernst: Interview with Ernst Mayr – 2004 (page 2 of 14)
    Excerpt: biology (Darwinian Evolution) differs from the physical sciences in that in the physical sciences, all theories, I don’t know exceptions so I think it’s probably a safe statement, all theories are based somehow or other on natural laws. In biology, as several other people have shown, and I totally agree with them, there are no natural laws in biology corresponding to the natural laws of the physical sciences.
    ,,, And so that’s what I do in this book. I show that the theoretical basis, you might call it, or I prefer to call it the philosophy of biology, has a totally different basis than the theories of physics.
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/media/pdf/0004D8E1-178C-10EB-978C83414B7F012C.pdf

    Roger Highfield makes much the same observation as Ernst Mayr and states, ,,, Whatever the case, those universal truths—’laws’—that physicists and chemists all rely upon appear relatively absent from biology.

    WHAT SCIENTIFIC IDEA IS READY FOR RETIREMENT? Evolution is True – Roger Highfield – January 2014
    Excerpt: If evolutionary biologists are really Seekers of the Truth, they need to focus more on finding the mathematical regularities of biology, following in the giant footsteps of Sewall Wright, JBS Haldane, Ronald Fisher and so on.
    ,,, Whatever the case, those universal truths—’laws’—that physicists and chemists all rely upon appear relatively absent from biology.
    Little seems to have changed from a decade ago when the late and great John Maynard Smith wrote a chapter on evolutionary game theory for a book on the most powerful equations of science: his contribution did not include a single equation.
    http://www.edge.org/response-detail/25468

    Professor Murray Eden of MIT, in a paper entitled “Inadequacies of Neo-Darwinian Evolution as a Scientific Theory” stated that “the randomness postulate is highly implausible and that an adequate scientific theory of evolution must await the discovery and elucidation of new natural laws—physical, physico-chemical, and biological.”

    “It is our contention that if ‘random’ is given a serious and crucial interpretation from a probabilistic point of view, the randomness postulate is highly implausible and that an adequate scientific theory of evolution must await the discovery and elucidation of new natural laws—physical, physico-chemical, and biological.”
    Murray Eden, “Inadequacies of Neo-Darwinian Evolution as a Scientific Theory,” Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution, editors Paul S. Moorhead and Martin M. Kaplan, June 1967, p. 109.
    https://people.eecs.berkeley.edu/~christos/evol/compevol_files/Wistar-Eden-1.pdf

    In fact, not only is there no ‘law of evolution’ within the known physical universe for Darwinists to build a realistic mathematical model upon, the second law of thermodynamics, entropy, a law with great mathematical explanatory power in science, almost directly contradicts the primary Darwinian claim that greater and greater levels of functional complexity can easily be had and/or ‘naturally selected’ for over long periods of time. Indeed, entropy’s main claim is that, over long periods of time, everything in the universe will decay into simpler and simpler states until what is termed thermodynamic equilibrium is finally reached.

    Thus, not only does evolution NOT have any known universal law to appeal to in order to establish itself as a hard science, evolution is almost directly contradicted, if not directly contradicted, by one of the most powerful laws in science. Namely, the second law of thermodynamics. Whereas, on the other hand, recent advances in quantum information theory, advances that have finally verified Maxwell’s demon thought experiment, have shown that Intelligent Design is very much compatible with the second law of thermodynamics. Specifically, as the following 2017 article states: James Clerk Maxwell (said), “The idea of dissipation of energy depends on the extent of our knowledge.”,,,
    quantum information theory,,, describes the spread of information through quantum systems.,,,
    Fifteen years ago, “we thought of entropy as a property of a thermodynamic system,” he said. “Now in (quantum) information theory, we wouldn’t say entropy is a property of a system, but a property of an observer who describes a system.”,,,

    The Quantum Thermodynamics Revolution – May 2017
    Excerpt: the 19th-century physicist James Clerk Maxwell put it, “The idea of dissipation of energy depends on the extent of our knowledge.”
    In recent years, a revolutionary understanding of thermodynamics has emerged that explains this subjectivity using quantum information theory — “a toddler among physical theories,” as del Rio and co-authors put it, that describes the spread of information through quantum systems. Just as thermodynamics initially grew out of trying to improve steam engines, today’s thermodynamicists are mulling over the workings of quantum machines. Shrinking technology — a single-ion engine and three-atom fridge were both experimentally realized for the first time within the past year — is forcing them to extend thermodynamics to the quantum realm, where notions like temperature and work lose their usual meanings, and the classical laws don’t necessarily apply.
    They’ve found new, quantum versions of the laws that scale up to the originals. Rewriting the theory from the bottom up has led experts to recast its basic concepts in terms of its subjective nature, and to unravel the deep and often surprising relationship between energy and information — the abstract 1s and 0s by which physical states are distinguished and knowledge is measured.,,,
    Renato Renner, a professor at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, described this as a radical shift in perspective. Fifteen years ago, “we thought of entropy as a property of a thermodynamic system,” he said. “Now in (quantum) information theory, we wouldn’t say entropy is a property of a system, but a property of an observer who describes a system.”,,,
    https://www.quantamagazine.org/quantum-thermodynamics-revolution/

    Again to repeat that last sentence,“Now in (quantum) information theory, we wouldn’t say entropy is a property of a system, but a property of an observer who describes a system.”,,,

    Simply put, these developments go to the very heart of the ID vs. Evolution debate and directly falsify, number one, Darwinian claims that immaterial information is merely ’emergent’ from some material basis. And number two, these experimental realizations of the Maxwell’s demon thought experiment go even further and also directly validates a primary claim from ID proponents that an Intelligent Designer, (i.e. an outside observer), who imparts information into a biological system, via ‘purposeful choices’, is necessary in order to circumvent the second law and bring the biological system to a state that is far from thermodynamic equilibrium

    MOVING ‘FAR FROM EQUILIBRIUM’ IN A PREBIOTIC ENVIRONMENT: The role of Maxwell’s Demon in life origin – DAVID L. ABEL
    Abstract: Can we falsify the following null hypothesis?
    “A kinetic energy potential cannot be generated by Maxwell’s Demon from an ideal gas equilibrium without purposeful choices of when to open and close the partition’s trap door.”
    If we can falsify this null hypothesis with an observable naturalistic mechanism, we have moved a long way towards modeling the spontaneous molecular evolution of life. Falsification is essential to discount teleology. But life requires a particular version of “far from equilibrium” that explains formal organization, not just physicodynamic self-ordering as seen in Prigogine’s dissipative structures. Life is controlled and regulated, not just constrained. Life follows arbitrary rules of behavior, not just invariant physical laws. To explain life’s origin and regulation naturalistically, we must first explain the more fundamental question, “How can hotter, faster moving, ideal gas molecules be dichotomized from cooler, slower moving, ideal gas molecules without the Demon’s choice contingency operating the trap door?”
    https://www.academia.edu/9963341/MOVING_FAR_FROM_EQUILIBRIUM_IN_A_PREBIOTIC_ENVIRONMENT_The_role_of_Maxwell_s_Demon_in_life_origin

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    As to ecology in general. The definition of ecology is as such:

    e·col·o·gy – definition
    the branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.

    In regards to “the relations of organisms to one another”, Charles Darwin claimed that “One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die.”

    “One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die.”
    – Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

    Here is the logic of natural selection if graphic form

    The Logic of Natural Selection – graph
    http://recticulatedgiraffe.wee.....35.jpg?308

    Yet Darwin’s claim that the general law of relationships between organisms, (i.e. the ‘ecology’ between organisms). will be one that is primarily driven by competition wherein “the strongest live and the weakest die” is shown to be false by numerous lines of evidence.

    In fact, Darwin himself offered this following ‘anti-altruism’ standard as a falsification criteria for his theory, “Natural selection cannot possibly produce any modification in any one species exclusively for the good of another species”… and even stated that “If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any one species had been formed for the exclusive good of another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such could not have been produced through natural selection.”

    “Natural selection cannot possibly produce any modification in any one species exclusively for the good of another species; though throughout nature one species incessantly takes advantage of, and profits by, the structure of another. But natural selection can and does often produce structures for the direct injury of other species, as we see in the fang of the adder, and in the ovipositor of the ichneumon, by which its eggs are deposited in the living bodies of other insects. If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any one species had been formed for the exclusive good of another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such could not have been produced through natural selection.”
    – Charles Darwin – Origin of Species

    And yet, directly contrary to Darwin’s claim that “Natural selection cannot possibly produce any modification in any one species exclusively for the good of another species” or it would annihilate his theory, it is now known that “in thousands of plant species often entirely new organs have been formed for the exclusive good of more than 132,930 other species, these ‘ugly facts’ have annihilated Darwin’s theory as well as the modern versions of it.”

    Plant Galls and Evolution
    How More than Twelve Thousand1 Ugly Facts are Slaying a Beautiful Hypothesis: Darwinism2
    Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig – 7 September 2017
    Excerpt: in the case of the galls, in thousands of plant species often entirely new organs have been formed for the exclusive good of more than 132,930 other species, these ‘ugly facts’ have annihilated Darwin’s theory as well as the modern versions of it. The galls are not ‘useful to the possessor’, the plants. There is no space for these phenomena in the world of “the selfish gene” (Dawkins). Moreover, the same conclusion appears to be true for thousands of angiosperm species producing deceptive flowers (in contrast to gall formations, now for the exclusive good of the plant species) – a topic which should be carefully treated in another paper.
    http://www.weloennig.de/PlantGalls.pdf

    Moreover, it is now shown that bacteria themselves do not live in competition with each other, as Darwin had presupposed, but that bacteria live in a relationships that are mutually beneficial and interdependent. The following researchers said they were ‘banging our heads against the wall’ by the contradictory findings to Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ thinking that they had found. In fact that even went so far as to utter this blasphemous heresy against Darwin, ,,, “Maybe Darwin’s presumption that the world may be dominated by competition is wrong.”,,, (I hope they are still lucky enough to have jobs after daring to publicly doubt Darwin as they did),,,

    Doubting Darwin: Algae Findings Surprise Scientists – April 28, 2014
    Excerpt: One of Charles Darwin’s hypotheses posits that closely related species will compete for food and other resources more strongly with one another than with distant relatives, because they occupy similar ecological niches. Most biologists long have accepted this to be true.
    Thus, three researchers were more than a little shaken to find that their experiments on fresh water green algae failed to support Darwin’s theory — at least in one case.
    “It was completely unexpected,” says Bradley Cardinale, associate professor in the University of Michigan’s school of natural resources & environment. “When we saw the results, we said ‘this can’t be.”‘ We sat there banging our heads against the wall. Darwin’s hypothesis has been with us for so long, how can it not be right?”
    The researchers ,,,— were so uncomfortable with their results that they spent the next several months trying to disprove their own work. But the research held up.,,,
    The scientists did not set out to disprove Darwin, but, in fact, to learn more about the genetic and ecological uniqueness of fresh water green algae so they could provide conservationists with useful data for decision-making. “We went into it assuming Darwin to be right, and expecting to come up with some real numbers for conservationists,” Cardinale says. “When we started coming up with numbers that showed he wasn’t right, we were completely baffled.”,,,
    Darwin “was obsessed with competition,” Cardinale says. “He assumed the whole world was composed of species competing with each other, but we found that one-third of the species of algae we studied actually like each other. They don’t grow as well unless you put them with another species. It may be that nature has a heck of a lot more mutualisms than we ever expected.
    “,,, Maybe Darwin’s presumption that the world may be dominated by competition is wrong.”
    http://www.livescience.com/452.....f-bts.html

    Moreover, and again directly contrary to the central ‘survival of the fittest’ assumption of Darwinian evolution, we find that bacteria, instead of eating us, are also directly helping us in essential ways that have nothing to do with their own survival of the fittest concerns:

    NIH Human Microbiome Project defines normal bacterial makeup of the body – June 13, 2012
    Excerpt: Microbes inhabit just about every part of the human body, living on the skin, in the gut, and up the nose. Sometimes they cause sickness, but most of the time, microorganisms live in harmony with their human hosts, providing vital functions essential for human survival.
    http://www.nih.gov/news/health.....gri-13.htm

    We are living in a bacterial world, and it’s impacting us more than previously thought – February 15, 2013
    Excerpt: We often associate bacteria with disease-causing “germs” or pathogens, and bacteria are responsible for many diseases, such as tuberculosis, bubonic plague, and MRSA infections. But bacteria do many good things, too, and the recent research underlines the fact that animal life would not be the same without them.,,,
    I am,, convinced that the number of beneficial microbes, even very necessary microbes, is much, much greater than the number of pathogens.”
    http://phys.org/news/2013-02-b.....ought.html

    As well, it is now known that “Microbial life can easily live without us; we, however, cannot survive without the global catalysis and environmental transformations it provides.”

    The Microbial Engines That Drive Earth’s Biogeochemical Cycles – Paul G. Falkowski – 2008
    Excerpt: Microbial life can easily live without us; we, however, cannot survive without the global catalysis and environmental transformations it provides.
    http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/v.....8;type=pdf
    – Paul G. Falkowski is Professor Geological Sciences at Rutgers

    None of this pervasive altruistic behavior of bacteria, between themselves, and for our benefit in particular, makes any sense on the Darwinian evolution scheme of things and in fact directly contradicts the primary ‘prediction’ that Darwin had made in regards the ecological relationships between species. , i.e. “let the strongest live and the weakest die”,

    Richard Dawkins interview with a ‘Darwinian’ physician goes off track – video
    Excerpt: “I am amazed, Richard, that what we call metazoans, multi-celled organisms, have actually been able to evolve, and the reason [for amazement] is that bacteria and viruses replicate so quickly — a few hours sometimes, they can reproduce themselves — that they can evolve very, very quickly. And we’re stuck with twenty years at least between generations. How is it that we resist infection when they can evolve so quickly to find ways around our defenses?”
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....62031.html

    Again, if Darwinian evolution were a normal science instead of basically being a pseudo-scientific religion for atheists, these findings of pervasive altruistic behavior in the relationships between bacteria and even in the transformation of the environment itself by bacteria for the benefit of humans, (and for other multicellular organisms) should count as yet another powerful falsification of their theory.

  6. 6
    vmahuna says:

    Well, OK, but then we must also consider Aid from Foreigners, which is not quite the same as “foreign aid”.
    Back in the 1970s, there was “international” (i.e., Western Europe, the USA, and associated tag-a-longs) interest in “combating” the famine in Somalia. Whole buncha folks did concerts and stuff, the USA sent uncountable tons of “surplus” agricultural products, and doctors and such flew in to provide free medical help. The result: ENDLESS famine, because in the middle of a countrywide “famine”, Somalia DOUBLED its population in a single generation (20 years). This would clearly drive poor Mr. Malthus bonkers.
    Why did the population double? Because the lesson the Somalian people learnt from their “disaster” was that stupid foreigners would PAY THEM to continue having babies neither they nor their government could FEED without perpetual aid from foreigners.
    And so the Somali population will double AGAIN in a decade or so, even though the ONLY “local business enterprise”, i.e., Somali Pirates, has gone bust. In general, having DESTROYED the VERY successful colonial (European-run) farms in Rhodesia and South Africa, the population of all of black-run Africa will double in the 21st century with no hope of feeding these people. Only Westerners see this as a problem.

  7. 7
    Bob O'H says:

    Vmahuna – Somalia? No, the famine was in Ethiopia.

  8. 8
    ET says:

    Earth to Bob O’H- there was also a famine in Somalia.

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