Thursday, 28 July 2011

Tansley helped Spencer with his Principles of Biology

History of early ecosystem-like concepts necessarily discusses Stephen A. Forbes's Lake as a Microcosm (see footnote 1). The Spencerian language of Forbes is striking (Kingsland 1995). For example, ideas like a "common interest" between prey and predator in a balance of nature are rather not derived from Charles Darwin. Herbert Spencer was a contemporary of Darwin, who published a synthetic philosophy that was as popular as all inclusive. The opus is so vast, one usually gets lost. Here is a 'navigation tool' - an apt metaphor for the whole complex of "moving balances" envisaged by Spencer (there are of course more moving balances than depicted below, for example, that between fertility and mortality in Principles of Biology vol. 2).

    In his History of the Ecosystem Concept Frank Golley (1996) also mentions the strong influence of Spencer on Forbes and adds in a footnote:
"... The language of Spencer is almost exactly that used by ecologists in discussion ecosystems." (Golley 1996, p. 211 footnote 2)
This is surprising at first sight. At second sight, however, Spencer acknowledges the help of Arthur G. Tansley in revising the second edition of his Principles of Biology (see acknowledgements in vol. 1, Spencer 1898). Tansley was a pioneer of ecological research and inventor of the ecosystem concept, though that was much later in 1935. Nevertheless, this connection between Spencer and Tansley probably explains why Spencer's ideas on ecology had such a familiar ring to an ecosystem ecologist like Frank Golley.

  • Forbes SA (1887) The lake as a microcosm. Bull. Sci. Association Peoria 1887: 77-87.
  • Golley FB (1996) A history of the Ecosystem Concept. Yale University Press, New Haven.
  • Kingsland SE (1995) Modeling Nature. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Spencer H (1898) Principles of Biology, vol. 1. Appleton and Company, New York.
  • Tansley AG (1935) The use and abuse of vegetational concepts and trems. Ecology 16: 284-307.