than superficially versed in ecology, quantitative statistics, the conditions of natural communities (particularly, for example, under ice cover or during high river flows), dominating irregular nonequilibrium conditions, growth and reproductive characteristics, environmental heterogeneity, etc. Dissertational research in graduate school, although often of excellent quality, is frequently narrow and laboratory oriented. Recently, a few vocal schools have advocated empirical correlational modeling in limnology with no appreciable understanding of causality or controlling variables.

A strong bias exists toward zoological aspects of limnology. Deeply rooted in historical and in some cases religious foundations,1 limnology has been, and still is, taught primarily by biologists with zoological training and interests. The importance of consumers in determining the biomass, species composition, and production of prey is paramount among the principles governing aquatic food web structure. Size-selective predation by fish on zooplankton is among the most predictable community phenomena. Yet generally less than 10 to 20 percent of aquatic ecosystem energetics and regulation is associated with animals (Wetzel, 1995). The pivotal importance of organic matter produced by photosynthetic organisms both within the lake or river and within the drainage basin and imported to the water body, and of degradation, biogeochemical cycling, and energy fluxes, is markedly understudied and poorly taught. It is important that the enormous existing zoological information be integrated correctly into educational and research evaluations of ecosystem operations and regulation.

Integration at the ecosystem level is required of studies and teaching of system components. Limnology is a composite of physical, chemical, geological, and biological topics, and an integration among these subdisciplines is essential for the interdependent ecosystem perspective and effective management of inland aquatic ecosystems. Coupled research and teaching are essential to achieve this training.


The premier position that animals have assumed in biological study, ecological research, and conceptual developments of ecology cannot be questioned. Historical roots of zoological dominance in aquatic ecological study and conceptual developments are varied and include the food and economic importance of fish and aquatic insects, the early relative ease of sampling and examination of population and community interactions of larger organisms, and—in part—the religion-inspired omnipotence of humans and other animals over other organisms, particularly plants and microbes. The idea of humans as supreme over the environment has prevailed in recent history, particularly in the schools of Goethe, Spencer, and Darwin. The behavioral characteristics of animals, fish as a protein source, and human biology related to medicine have contributed further to a greater emphasis on animals than on plants or microbiota and to weakened understanding of the couplings and interactive regulations at the ecosystem levels (cf. review of Wetzel, 1995).

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement