The Modellers' Halting Foray into Ecological Theory: Or, What is This Thing Called 'Growth Rate'?
This discussion paper describes the attempt of an imagined group of non-ecologists ("Modellers" ) to determine the population growth rate from field data. The Modellers wrestle with the multiple definitions of the growth rate available in the literature and the fact that, in their modelling, it appears to be drastically model-dependent, which seems to throw into question the very concept itself. Specifically, they observe that six representative models used to capture the data produce growth-rate values, which differ significantly. Almost ready to concede that the problem they set for themselves is ill-posed, they arrive at an alternative point of view that not only preserves the identity of the concept of the growth rate, but also helps discriminate between competing models for capturing the data. This is accomplished by assessing how robustly a given model is able to generate growth-rate values from randomized time-series data. This leads to the proposal of an iterative approach to ecological modelling in which the definition of theoretical concepts (such as the growth rate) and model selection complement each other. The paper is based on high-quality field data of mites on apple trees and may be called a â€œdata-driven opinion pieceâ€ .