Unifying the basic models of ecology to be more complete and easier to teach

Clarence Lehman, Shelby Loberg, Adam T. Clark, Daniel Schmitter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Population and basic community ecology are commonly presented to students through a set of distinct models, such as those for exponential growth, logistic growth, competition, predation, and so forth. This approach mirrors the historical development of the field, but it has several shortcomings as a way to present ecological theory. First, the classical equations can appear disconnected from one another. Second, differences in the parameters and styles of the equations do not lend themselves to comparison in a common graphical form. And third, the set of equations as they are commonly presented provides no easy way to see whether any concepts are left out. In fact, something is left out that is not commonly taught: the concept of faster-than-exponential growth approaching a singularity, which is important for understanding rapidly growing systems. In the present article, we demonstrate a unified approach that simplifies the traditional equations of ecology, expands their scope, and emphasizes their interconnections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)415-426
Number of pages12
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to Richard Barnes, Emma Goldberg, Forest Isbell, Adrienne Keen, Amy Kendig, Scott Lanyon, Todd Lehman, Joanna Masel, Cordelia McGehee, Richard McGehee, Kate Meyer, Robert Ricklefs, Allison Shaw, Daniel Stanton, David Tilman, Michael Wilson, and two anonymous reviewers for insights and discussions during the development and presentation of this material. We are also grateful to the students of Biol 3407 and 3700 at the University of Minnesota for enthusiastic discussions and ideas that led to this article. This work was supported in part by funding from the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment; the University of Minnesota Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior; and the University of Minnesota Libraries.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.


  • Ecology
  • Exponential
  • Logistic growth
  • Macroscale models
  • Pedagogy


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