Timothy F. H. Allen – “Introducing the Concept of Profit Across Ecology”

Ecologists often speak of resource use, but not of profit. Return on effort is neglected. Ecologists are so doom and gloom because their systems are seen as going round a cycle from establishment to demise as resources run out. Sometimes they lead to death and extinction, but economists know better that resources do not run out; usually they just get more expensive in the next pass around the cycle. There are successive cycles of increasing efficiency. Some cycles are predictable from rate-dependent energy gradients (high gain), and whole other systems are predicted from rate-independent constraints on those flows (low gain). We have examples from ants, termites, birds, the Roman Empire and prevailing global ecology.

Timothy Allen is Professor Emeritus of Botany at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has been applying notions of complex systems and hierarchy theory to ecology for 35 years. His first book, Hierarchy: Perspectives for Ecological Complexity (Chicago Press, 1982) established hierarchy theory and scaling in ecology. His four other hierarchy theoretic books specialize in ecosystem analysis, or broaden across all types of ecology and beyond to the life and social sciences in general. He has published over 60 scholarly works in journals on community data analysis, agricultural systems, issues of scale, and sustainability. His latest book with T. Hoekstra is the 2015 Toward a Unified Ecology. He enters the emerging field of economic ecology with J. Tainter indicating a move beyond the information age to an age of quality global management.

Allen’s lecture is part of the Complex Systems Research Seminar Series, supported by a Willson Center research seminar grant and affiliated with the Complex Systems and the Humanities Willson Center Research Cluster.