Pick up any typical adventure story, and you are likely to read how the intrepid explorers drop everything and race off into the unknown, where they have hair-raising encounters, see amazing things and eventually win through to their goal. What those stories don't tell you is the boring part - the even longer struggle that the explorers had to endure even to get started on their great adventure. Everyone knows that Columbus discovered the New World. What is often ignored is that he spent long years patiently lobbying at the Spanish court before he even started.
Science tends to be the same way. You read about a great discovery without hearing about the long and often intense struggle that led to it. When we were students, one of our professors used to say that each generation of scientists struggles long and hard to understand some phenomenon. But the next generation accepts that hard-won knowledge as simple and obvious. Newton said that he was able to make his discoveries because he stood on the shoulders of giants. One of these giants was Johannes Kepler, whose three laws of planetary motion were the fruit of an entire lifetime of studying astronomical observations.
It is the same with the science of complexity. As students, we studied science that tended to ignore complexity. It is very satisfying, therefore, to see mainstream ecology beginning to come to terms with complexity. In the course of writing this book, we were surprised to discover just how many ecological studies now adopt the ideas and methods that form an important part of this book. Studies using such techniques as multi-agent simulations and fractal pattern analysis are now commonplace.
The aim of this book is to introduce our readers to the exciting new field of complexity in ecology. Our goal is to provide an easy-to-read introduction. One group of readers we especially hope to serve are people who already have a basic knowledge of, or interest in, ecology, and wish to know what complexity is about. In keeping with these goals, we have tried to keep the book short, rather than have it blow out into a massive tome. Inevitably, we have had to leave out much. This account is in no way intended to be a comprehensive account of the entire field of complexity or landscape ecology. Rather we have chosen to present topics that we hope will provide you with a gentle introduction to this important and exciting area of research.
There is a deliberate trend throughout the book to move from small to large. So we start (Chapter 2) with individuals and even within individuals (in the case of growth and development). At the other extreme, the final chapters deal with large-scale and even global phenomena.
As we explain in the course of the book, simulation models play an important role in studying complexity. We recognise the importance for readers of being able to pay these virtual experiments themselves. Therefore we have bundled up many of the models that we describe here as online demonstrations that can be accessed via our Virtual Laboratory web site:
We are indebted to many people who provided material assistance during the writing and production of the book. Tom Chandler and several of his students and colleagues provided images from their virtual reality models for Chapter 9. Our colleagues David Roshier, Gary Luck and David Watson contributed critical comments on several chapters. Joanne Lawrence carried out useful literature surveys during the early stages of writing. Tania Bransden contributed to the editing, indexing and references, and provided a much needed reality check, never letting us get away with lapses into jargon, irrelevance and incomprehensibility! Jeanette Niehus did much of the final formatting, copy editing and proofing of the manuscript. Justine Singh helped with the references and compiled the index. Dr Ann Sadedin and Ruth Cornforth provided useful comments on the manuscript as well as careful proof reading of final drafts. We are also indebted to the publishers and the series editors for their faith in us and for their encouragement throughout the writing and production of the book. Finally, we are grateful to the Australian Research Council and to the Australian Centre for Complex Systems for funding assistance.