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Maximum Entropy and Ecology: A Theory of Abundance, Distribution, and Energetics

Series: Oxford Series in Ecology and Evolution (OSEE)

By: John Harte(Author)

280 pages, 60 b/w illustrations

Oxford University Press

Paperback | Jun 2011 | #189762 | ISBN-13: 9780199593422
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £45.99 $60/€52 approx
Hardback | Apr 2015 | #189763 | ISBN-13: 9780199593415
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £79.99 $104/€91 approx

About this book

This pioneering graduate textbook provides readers with the concepts and practical tools required to understand the maximum entropy principle, and apply it to an understanding of ecological patterns. Rather than building and combining mechanistic models of ecosystems, the approach is grounded in information theory and the logic of inference. Paralleling the derivation of thermodynamics from the maximum entropy principle, the state variable theory of ecology developed in this book predicts realistic forms for all metrics of ecology that describe patterns in the distribution, abundance, and energetics of species over multiple spatial scales, a wide range of habitats, and diverse taxonomic groups.

The first part of the book is foundational, discussing the nature of theory, the relationship of ecology to other sciences, and the concept of the logic of inference. Subsequent sections present the fundamentals of macroecology and of maximum information entropy, starting from first principles. The core of the book integrates these fundamental principles, leading to the derivation and testing of the predictions of the maximum entropy theory of ecology (METE). A final section broadens the book's perspective by showing how METE can help clarify several major issues in conservation biology, placing it in context with other theories and highlighting avenues for future research.

"All those new to research, regardless of discipline, would do well to read at least the first part of this book and there is plenty other material to help understand 'how to do research'. There is plenty for physicists to enjoy and think about at a casual level without the need to commit to finding out a huge amount about ecology. It was a pleasure to review this book."
– Colin Axon, Physics Energy Group Newsletter



PART I. Foundations
1: The Nature of Theory
2: The Logic of Inference

PART II. Macroecology
3: Scaling Metrics and Macroecology
4: Overview of Macroecological Models and Theories

PART III. The Maximum Entropy Principle
5: Entropy, Information, and the Concept of Maximum Entropy
6: MaxEnt at work

PART IV. Macroecology and MaxEnt
7: The Maximum Entropy Theory of Ecology (METE)
8: Testing METE

PART V. A Wider Perspective
9: Applications to Conservation
10: Connections to other theories
11: Future Directions
Epilogue: Is a Comprehensive Unified Theory of Ecology possible? What might it look like?

Appendix A. Access to plant census data from a serpentine grassland
Appendix B. A fractal model
Appendix C. Predicting the SAR: An alternative approach


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John Harte is a Professor of Ecosystem Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. Following undergraduate studies at Harvard and a doctoral degree in Physics from the University of Wisconsin, he was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at CERN, Geneva and an Assistant Professor of Physics at Yale. His research interests include climate-ecosystem interactions, theoretical ecology, and environmental policy. He is the recipient of a Pew Scholars Prize in Conservation and the Environment, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2001 Leo Szilard prize from the American Physical Society, the 2004 UC Berkeley Graduate Mentorship Award, a Miller Professorship, and is a co-recipient of the 2006 George Polk award in journalism. He is an elected Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences and the American Physical Society. He has also served on six National Academy of Sciences Committees and has authored over 190 scientific publications, including seven books.

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