On the Poverty of Theory II. Stochasticity and Determinism, or What About the Microbes?
Bever et al. (2010) - Rooting theories of plant community ecology in microbial interactions. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25:468-478
“Moreover, the shift from stochastic to deterministic statements about the world can occur in changing from one level of explanation to another in either direction. Not only can the apparently random be explained as a result of deterministic forces in higher dimensionality with more specification, but a reduction in dimensionality by averaging also converts stochasticity into determination.” (Levins and Lewontin, 1980)
Is the “plant community” an appropriate level of analysis to determine whether a process, or a collection of complex processes, is stochastic or deterministic.
Bever et al. (2010) suggests that predominant theories of plant ecology have an above ground bias. They argue that it is this bias has resulted in the limited success that community ecologists have had in finding a mechanism to explain “the coexistence of competing plant species.” By neglecting the less visible aspects community structure and function, plant community ecologists fail to recognize the constraints and feedbacks that microbial structure and dynamics have on plant-plant interactions, diversity and competition. Bever et al. propose three conceptual models that incorporate plant-microbial feedbacks to help rectify these gaps. They conclude by suggesting that due to the role that microbial population dynamics play in the plant-plant competition and coexistence, incorporating microbial dynamics can help explain gaps in plant ecology theory.
And so I wonder if “plant community” is really the appropriate level of analysis to be asking the question of whether community (re)assembly will be stochastic or deterministic? As well, does of reliance on the niche concept obfuscate ecosystem processes that would allow us to answer some of these questions?