Ecological Orbits: How Planets Move and Populations Grow
Department of Ecology and Evolution
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, New York, USA,
Department of Philosophy
University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW, Australia
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New York
Publication Date: April 2004
Pages: xvi + 168
ISBN: 019516816X (hardcover)
Artwork by Amy Dunham
You can purchase a copy of this book from
University Press or from Amazon.
The main focus of the book is the presentation of the
'inertial' view of population
growth. This view provides a rather simple model for complex
population dynamics, and is achieved at the level of the single
species without invoking species interactions.
An important part of this account is the maternal effect.
Investment of mothers in the quality
of their daughters makes the rate of reproduction of the current
generation depend not only on the current environment, but also on the
environment experienced by the previous generation.
The inertial view of population growth
is a significant departure from traditional
ecological theory, which has been developing within the Lotka-Volterra
framework for 75 years. The view advanced in this book focuses attention away from
the growth rate as the major variable responding to the environment,
and towards 'acceleration', or the rate of change of the growth rate
between consecutive generations.
If the inertial view of population growth proves
correct, a great deal of current theory on population growth
will need to be rethought and revised.
1. On earth as it is in the heavens
2. Does ecology have laws?
3. Equilibrium and accelerated death
4. The maternal effect hypothesis
5. Predator-prey interactions and the period of cycling
6. Inertial growth
7. Practical consequences
8. Shadows on the wall
Awards and Recognition
- Named among the Outstanding Academic Titles of 2005 by
Choice: Current Review for Academic Libraries.
- Listed by Science Daily as one of the top ten population ecology books.
- Appeared in Academia's list of Academic Essentials in Biology (September 2004).
Advance Praise and Quotes from Reviews
"Ecological Orbits is a wonderfully well written book that could revolutionize population biology.
It takes the metabolism and growth of individuals as fundamental to understanding population
size in place of the standard model of population ecology which
treats individuals as biological ciphers whose reproduction is independent of their
actual biology. Every ecologist and evolutionist needs to give it serious thought."
– Richard Lewontin, Harvard University
"Engagingly written, and unique in perspective. Must reading for anyone seriously
interested in theoretical ecology."
– Simon Levin, Princeton University
"This is a delightful little book. I recommend it highly as a true pleasure to read"
– Serge Luryi, Stony Brook University
"The authors analogy to physic's conceptual evolution is an entertaining and
effective tool for presenting their key argument.
Population dynamics are likely to be significantly influenced by their inertial properties.
The book is very well written and generally entertaining to read.
Equations are kept to a minimum, without ignoring them completely.
Many readers should appreciate the interspersion of historical context and occasional anecdote,
mixed with a steady undercurrent of philosophical discourse.
This mix should widen the audience to include biologists and environmental scientists,
with a few philosophy of science students thrown in."
– Timothy Mousseau, University of South Carolina
"Many ecologists suffer from physics envy and this book should be an excellent 'medicine'
against this disease. Ginzburg and Colyvan do a great job of showing that physics
and biology are not as different, at least from the point of view of philosophy of
science, as some would portray. I found the discussion what laws of nature are very useful.
I think that this book will be a significant influence on how ecologists
think about their science."
– Peter Turchin, University of Connecticut
"Ecological Orbits may well turn out to mark [...] a transition from what was considered unthinkable – namely
a rigorous and nontrivial theory of population dynamics akin to a law of nature – to a real scientific achievement."
– Gunter Wagner, Yale University
Reviews and Critical Notices
- Drake, J.M. (2005) American Midland Naturalist, (April 2005).
- Freckleton, R.P. (2005) 'Laws of Ecology', Ecology, 86(1): 271–2.
- Hoskins, S. (2006) The Biologist, 53(5).
- Hutchings, J.A. (2005) Choice: Current Review for Academic Libraries, 42(6) (February 2005).
- Krebs, C.J. (2005) The Quarterly Review of Biology, 80(1): 134–5.
- Luryi, S. (2006) 'Physics, Philosophy and ... Ecology', Physics Today, May 2006: 51.
- Matthewson, J. (2007) The Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 85(3): 501–4.
- Ramsay, S.M. (2004) International Society for Behavioral Ecology Newsletter,
- Wagner, G. (2005) 'Mothers Driving Cycles', Science, 309 (23 September 2005): 2001.
- Colyvan, M. (2005)
'Probability and Ecological Complexity', Biology and Philosophy, 20(4): 869–79.
- Colyvan, M. (2008)
'Population Ecology', chapter in S. Sarkar and A. Plutynski (eds.),
A Companion to the Philosophy of Biology, Blackwell, pp. 301–20.
- Colyvan, M. and Ginzburg, L.R. (2003)
'The Galilean Turn in Population Ecology', Biology and
Philosophy, 18(3): 401–14.
- Colyvan, M. and Ginzburg, L.R. (2003)
'Laws of Nature and Laws of Ecology', Oikos, 101(3): 649–53.
To be reprinted in R.A. Skipper Jr., R. Ankeny, C.F. Craver, L. Darden, G.M. Mikkelson, and R.C. Richardson (eds.),
Philosophy and the Life Sciences: A Reader, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA., 2005. Translated into Estonian (by Kalle Hein) and reprinted as
'Loodusseadused ja Ökoloogiaseadused'
in Akadeemia, 2008, No. 7, 1493–504.
- Colyvan, M. and Ginzburg, L.R. (2010)
'Analogical Thinking in Ecology: Looking Beyond Disciplinary Boundaries',
Quarterly Review of Biology, 85(2): 171–82.
- Ginzburg, L.R. and Damuth, J. (2008)
'The Space-Lifetime Hypothesis: Viewing Organisms in Four
The American Naturalist, 171(1): 125–131.
- Ginzburg, L.R. and Jensen, C.X.J. (2004)
'Rules of Thumb for Judging Ecological Theories',
Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 19(3): 121–26.
- Jensen, C.X.J. and Ginzburg, L.R. (2005)
'Paradoxes or Theoretical Failures? The Jury is Still Out', Ecological Modelling,
The authors (Mark left, Lev right) in New York in December 2003.