Complexity and ecosystem stability

Jon Borrelli over at Assembling my Network has a really nice post about the Robert May complexity-stability debate that I highly recommend. He points to a comparatively unknown paper by Alan Roberts that was published in Nature shortly after the May paper from 1972. Roberts shows that correcting for a fundamental inconsistency in May’s assumptions basically turns around all the results, leading to higher stability with higher complexity. Despite that, Robert May’s contribution had the far greater impact, inspired a lot of good research and remains the classical citation with which people like to start their talks about complexity stability. Rightly so? Probably not if you take Jeremy’s “being influential doesn’t compensate for being wrong” post seriously.

2 thoughts on “Complexity and ecosystem stability

  1. Thanks for the link. I’m aware of the Roberts paper, and other early follow-ups like Gilpin’s on feasibility. Personally, I wouldn’t say May’s paper is wrong so much as a first-order result. I think it deserved to be influential.


    • Agreed, this was a bit provocative – still, right or wrong, I would think the controversy that surrounds the statement that diversity may be destabilizing has, together with a great deal of other qualities, played an important part in the success of this paper. People love to cite and mention this because it creates a friction with our “default” belief. In that respect, and also in the classification as “first order result”, I see a lot of resemblance to Hubbel’s neutral theory that you mention in your post.


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