Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 8-31-1985


apparent interactions, community, ecology, interactions, models, theory


Philosophy of Science | Population Biology


The primary aim of this working paper is to challenge theoretical ecologists to clarify the intended status of any simple model that they use. If we restrict our attention to a subcommunity and treat it as if it were the full community, we need to invoke apparent interactions that incorporate the effects of unspecified or hidden variables as well as direct interactions. This position resembles that of previous discussions of apparent competition (Holt 1977), indirect effects (Lawlor 1979), and ecological abstraction (Schaffer 1981), but my definition of apparent interactions differs from those stated or implied by these authors. I advance a method for calculating apparent interactions that incorporates the effects of hidden variables in a way that most closely generates the observed population trajectories. My method shows the apparent attractions can be counterintuitive, which points to some fundamental ambiguities in theoretical ecology. These ambiguities arise if we use simple models, that is, ones with few components, when we are actually concerned with naturally variable observations drawn from systems with more components than we have explicitly modeled. We need to clarify whether we intend simple models to represent the processes that generated those observations, or whether they are merely redescriptions or summaries of those observations or, a third possibility, whether they are mathematical systems which are used to suggest how ecological systems might operate.


Original source: Pages 119-177 in "Construction and turnover in multispecies communities: A critique of approaches to ecological complexity," Ph.D. Dissertation, Harvard University, 1985

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



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