Dungan et al. on Scale

I thought Dungan et al did an excellent job demystifying the concept by clearly defining the various terms that scale has been related to. However, the idea and significance of “support” is still very unclear to me. Further, although the authors highlight the critical issue of arising from a poorly defined and poorly documented notion of scale and set out solid guidelines for future studies, they do not explore possibilities of consolidating extant research that are based on data collected at different scales. For instance, to understand how data at different scales may be combined (perhaps by developing thresholds or procedures to scale-up) is crucial for ecologists/neoecologist to be able to take advantage of findings in paleoecology. Bennington et al. (2009) writes:

“The greatest barrier to communicating and collaborating with neoecologists is not that data collected from extant ecosystems are necessarily different or more complete than paleoecological data but, rather, that these two data sets commonly represent or are collected at different scales. If such differences of scale can be understood and quantified, then they can be reconciled and even exploited. This will allow neoecological studies to inform the interpretation of patterns and processes in the fossil record and will permit the use of paleoecological studies to test how ecological and environmental processes have structured the biosphere over extended time intervals (National Research Council, 2005)”

Would Dungan et al. believe such consolidation of data to be possible? What rules should be followed? I would have liked to see the authors discuss the level of interactions between two scales or the “openness” of natural systems. Process at one scale may be highly sensitive to changes occurring in a higher scale but unaffected by processes at lower scales. How finely should higher/lower scale be identified; by magnitudes of 2 or magnitudes of 4? Should the proposed guidelines be the same for phenomena that are highly open? Are there critical points at which an open system stops interacting with higher or lower scales? If not, then do natural scales even exist? Or is it only a social construction  to aid our own understanding?

Bennington et al. (2009). Critical Issues of Scale in Paleoecology. Palaios, 24(1), pp. 1-4.


Comments are closed.