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Theoretical ecology refers to several intellectual traditions. The tradition pursued in universities and scientific journals under the rubric of theoretical ecology addresses the equations and probability distributions that govern the demography and biogeography of species. Common topics of theoretical ecology include population dynamics and especially the mathematics of food webs, and competition.

To a large extent theoretical ecology draws on the work of G. Evelyn Hutchinson and his students. Brothers H.T. Odum and E.P. Odum are seen as the true founders of modern theoretical ecology (sometimes described as ecosystem ecology). Robert MacArthur brought theory to community ecology. Daniel Simberloff was the student of E.O. Wilson, with whom MacArthur collaborated on The Theory of Island Biogeography, a seminal work in the development of theoretical ecology. Simberloff went on to add rigour to experimental ecology and was one of the stalwarts in the SLOSS Debate (whether it is preferable to protect a Single Large or Several Small reserves) and forced supporters of Jared Diamond's community assembly rules to defend their ideas through Neutral Model Analysis. Simberloff also played a key role in the (ongoing) debate on the utility of corridors for connecting isolated reserves (with Reed Noss taking the lead on the opposing side).

MacArthur's students Stephen Hubbell and Michael Rosenzweig combined theoretical and practical elements into works that extended MacArthur and Wilson's Island Biogeography Theory - Hubbell with his Unified Neutral Theory of Biodiversity and Biogeography and Rosenzweig with is Species Diversity in Space and Time.

Other key theoretical ecologists include Robert May, Robert Rosen, author of "Life Itself", G. David Tilman, and Robert Ulanowicz, author of Ecology: The Ascendant Perspective.

Theoretical Ecologists

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