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Ramon Margalef: a divided science.

Ramon Margalef's scientific practice rests on theoretical considerations that are more holistic than reductionist, among them, recognizing the ecosystem as the total integration of organisms and the environment, and emphasizing the importance of information--a measure of organization--and of evolutionary history as the defining characteristics of all ecosystems. Still, Margalef rejects the exclusivity of discussions between those favoring one or the other point of view and considers it more useful to bring these positions together.

"Any consideration of theoretical ecology tends to lead to the dilemma or conflict between reductionist ecology and holistic ecology, which causes chronic mental indigestion. 'Reductionist' ecology tends to utilize data from observation or from original measurements and makes broad use of simple statistics. 'Holism,' a word invented by the South African general J.C. Smuts (1870-1950), refers to focusing on the whole and is usually justified by saying that the whole is more than the sum of the parts, something that is dubious and only valid as a rhetorical technique.

Today, much of traditional ecology is being compressed between two more powerful versions of the same science. On one hand, the accumulation of basic data, in small research projects, is at an advantage when receiving funding and when publishing the results. On the other hand, we are witnessing the growth of a planetary or global ecology, motivated by matters like the greenhouse effect, the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest, the hole in the ozone layer, [and] oil spills, and this is promoted by bodies with very few resources, which are needed to organize the monitoring of the entire planet. I believe that traditional ecology is breaking up into a mosaic of hypotheses, some of them interesting and others less so, some of them contradictory or even frivolous. While most sciences have sought to deepen their foundations, ecology has filled up with concepts [and] hypotheses, rarely theories, that are usually kept unconnected from each other. An old-fashioned ecologist laments both the lack of a common theoretical infrastructure and the progressive loss of relevance of the naturalist's point of view."

Teoria de los sistemas ecologicos (The Theory of Ecological Systems)

Reproduced by permission of Publicacions de la Universitat de Barcelona (1991)

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Publication:Encyclopedia of the Biosphere
Article Type:Excerpt
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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