I don’t know about those experiments. They were all done in mesocosms…or as I call them, “bags.”
Last week, the eminent population ecologist Charley Krebs, channeling the sentiment expressed in the quote above, wrote a blog post on something he dubbed the “Volkswagen syndrome” in ecology. He points out that ecologists are bad at prediction, and wonders if our shortcomings in this department may be due in part to over-reliance on simplified models, labratory microcosms, and field mesocosm studies. The name alludes to VW’s recent attempts to, er, “simplify” the results of their cars’ emissions tests. Krebs wonders if we should declare a partial moratorium on microcosm studies until some kind of meta-analysis can show whether, or under what conditions, they are worthwhile.
This post drew a strong reaction from Jeremy Fox at Dynamic Ecology. Fox does much of his work with protists in microcosms, and so I think he (understandably) felt a bit defensive about what may have sounded like an attack on his whole research program. Fox argues that there are examples of micro/mesocosm work that have generalized to nature, and links to an older post defending micro/mesocosms against a list of common criticisms (which I get the sense he hears a lot). Morgan Ernest at Jabberwocky Ecology also had this less-strong response to Krebs’s post.
This is all interesting, but at this point, I’m getting a sinking feeling. This debate is drifting into familiar territory for ecology. Continue reading