The quantitative ecology of communities: Multivariate analysis in ecology
- Zoology Department, University of Auckland
Ever since the discipline was first established, ecologists have emphasised the extreme complexity of ecology. This complexity has frequently rendered the interpretation of field data almost impossible, or, when interpretation has succeeded, it has usually encompassed the more obvious phenomena, and one suspects that, as with an inefficient gold dredge, much of value is left behind in the "tailings". Much (though certainly not all) of the necessary mathematical theory, needed to extract the lost information has long been available, but has either been unknown to the ecologist, or so time-consuming in application that its use was impracticable. With the advent of the high-speed computer, the logistic difficulties, at least. Have been removed; and the power and elegance of multivariate techniques have been demonstrated in ecology by pioneering works such as those of Goodall (1954) and Williams and Lambert (1959), although Goodall's work was in fact carried out on a Facit hand calculator. At the same time, the application of mathematical theory to ecological situations is not entirely clear-cut, and many of the methods and concepts are still subject to controversy.