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Perspectives for Ecological Complexity

Second Edition


Perspectives for Ecological Complexity

Second Edition

Although complexity surrounds us, its inherent uncertainty, ambiguity, and contradiction can at first make complex systems appear inscrutable. Ecosystems, for instance, are nonlinear, self-organizing, seemingly chaotic structures in which individuals interact both with each other and with the myriad biotic and abiotic components of their surroundings across geographies as well as spatial and temporal scales. In the face of such complexity, ecologists have long sought tools to streamline and aggregate information. Among them, in the 1980s, T. F. H. Allen and Thomas B. Starr implemented a burgeoning concept from business administration: hierarchy theory. Cutting-edge when Hierarchy was first published, their approach to unraveling complexity is now integrated into mainstream ecological thought.

This thoroughly revised and expanded second edition of Hierarchy reflects the assimilation of hierarchy theory into ecological research, its successful application to the understanding of complex systems, and the many developments in thought since. Because hierarchies and levels are habitual parts of human thinking, hierarchy theory has proven to be the most intuitive and tractable vehicle for addressing complexity. By allowing researchers to look explicitly at only the entities and interconnections that are relevant to a specific research question, hierarchically informed data analysis has enabled a revolution in ecological understanding. With this new edition of Hierarchy, that revolution continues.

352 pages | 51 halftones, 28 line drawings, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Biological Sciences: Ecology, Evolutionary Biology


“The original edition of Hierarchy was in its day a seminal work. That it has taken thirty years for a second edition is almost a crime. During the intervening years, Hierarchy’s concepts have found application in a vast number of fields, and the lessons learned thereby have gone on to affect the accepted wisdom in ecological studies. Considerations of hierarchy are critical if one is to have an understanding of communication within any ecology or system. Thus, a work that explores the hows and whys of the formation, maintenance, and degradation of hierarchies is equally critical. This needed update will be invaluable.”

Michael Lissack, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence and president of the American Society for Cybernetics

“Allen and Starr focus on the elementary, but often disregarded, fact that ecological systems cannot avoid considerations as hierarchies. This analysis is fascinating stuff and deserves the compliment of being read very slowly.”

Lawrence B. Slobodkin | Quarterly Review of Biology, on the first edition

“Given the scope and novelty of the subject, Allen and Starr have attempted an ambitious task in drawing together many of the threads of thinking on hierarchies. They present this in a very personal synthetic style with wit and zeal, incorporating jargon and concepts from systems science, statistics, and science fiction. . . . This book should fill an important role if it helps to stimulate a future systematic and rigorous treatment of hierarchies.”

George Sugihara | Nature, on the first edition

Table of Contents


Part I. A Theory for Medium Number Systems

Chapter 1. Hierarchies
Chapter 2. The Janus-Faced Holon
Chapter 3. Scales and Filters
Chapter 4. Sirens of Certainty

Part II. Origins of Life as a Complex Medium Number System

Chapter 5. A Wrinkle in Time: Evolution by Preadaptation
Chapter 6. Functional and Structural Boundaries
Chapter 7. The Self-Replicating Hierarchy
Chapter 8. Scaling Strategies

Part III. Scale and Complex Systems

Chapter 9. Identifying the Scale in Community Ecology
Chapter 10. Hierarchy as a Context for Modeling and Simulation.
Chapter 11. Diversity and Connectedness
Chapter 12. Scale as an Investigative Tool

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