Introduction: Reflections Part 1

In May 2003, three graduate students from a mid-west university in the US, discovered that three of my papers were among the 13 most cited papers/books by authors in the journal Ecosystems 1998-2000. They asked me to comment on the papers- their origin, relevance and directions the field of ecosystem ecology might be headed.

    Holling, C.S. 1973. Resilience and stability of ecological systems. Ann. Rev. of Ecol. and Syst. 4: 1-23.
    Holling, C.S. 1986. The resilience of terrestrial ecosystems; local surprise and global change. In: W.C. Clark and R.E. Munn (eds.). Sustainable Development of the Biosphere. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. Chap. 10: 292-317.
    Holling, C.S. 1992. Cross-scale morphology, geometry and dynamics of ecosystems. Ecological Monographs. 62(4):447-502.

Each of those papers was a synthesis paper about ecosystems and their components that was the culmination of several years of earlier work. And, in fact, there were two additional synthesis papers, one of which preceded these three, but with a focus on behavioral ecology, not ecosystems. And one of which followed them, and was the first step in integrating ecological and social systems, again not just ecosystems. Overall, the five papers represent a progression from experimental work seeking for high certainty about simple systems, to systems work of high uncertainty about complex systems. In the latter situation, the unknown is inevitable, methods need to accept that reality and the rules for simplifying are not traditional ones. In a way, the work progressed from a focus on understanding more and more about less and less, to learning less and less about more and more!

The earliest paper was:

Holling, C.S. 1965. The functional response of predators to prey density and its role in mimicry and population regulation. Mem. Ent. Soc. Can. 45: 1-60

It has been heavily referenced over the 41 years since it was published.

The other is much more recent:

Holling, C.S., Lance H. Gunderson and Garry D. Peterson. 2002. Sustainability and Panarchies. In: Gunderson, Lance H. and C.S. Holling (eds), 2002. Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Ecological Systems. Island Press. Chapter 3, 63-102.

This last paper presents all I think I have learned over the years about the structure, function and history of ecosystems, social systems and the way they survive, evolve and succeed or fail. I have no idea how well that paper will affect the community of science or practice, but I am very happy with its content, although not with its style of writing.

I am writing now to give a personal view of what I believe I have discovered – my personal, explorers’ guide of intellectual journeys that truly excited me when, as it seemed to me, wondrous new lands periodically suddenly emerged that no one had seen or remarked on before. For scientists, those are the times when a tsunami wave of excitement triggers a passion for discovery.

This series Reflections will continue over the next few weeks.

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