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Matthieu Barbier, "Is there high-dimensional simplicity to be found in many-species ecological communities, from plants to microbes?"

Date: 
Sun, 17/02/2019 - 13:00 to 14:00

Location: 
Ground Water seminar room
Abstract: Three methodological paradigms arguably dominate our approaches to complex ecological communities. My interest lies in understanding how these approaches are interconnected and how they can learn from each other.
First, traditional theoretical ecology describes low-dimensional patterns (few species, few traits...) used as archetypes for intuition and tested in "model ecosystems".
Second, mechanistic "bottom-up" approaches, inspired by control and systems biology, combine many such patterns into complex circuits of dynamical feedbacks.
Finally, phenomenological "top-down" approaches, inspired by statistical mechanics, try to uncover universal properties of high-dimensional systems. But is this sort of emergent simplicity found in real ecosystems, and when?
My own work starts from the statistical mechanics lineage, for which I will show some theoretical results and successful applications in experimental plant communities. I will also discuss current work to extend this to food webs and microbial communities.
Ultimately, however, I do not wish to advocate this sole viewpoint. My hope is to start a discussion with experts in all three traditions, to ask: which facets of an ecosystem exhibit low-dimensional simplicity, high-dimensional simplicity, or irreducible complexity? And how can we use this in our concrete models and predictions for particular ecosystems?