Abstract. Science aims to provide understanding of the natural world. This is achieved by reducing its complexity through the formulation of theories and models that, while capturing the relevant details, provide an abstracted description that can yield predictions on yet unobservable parts of it. Progress in science arises from the essential tension between induction and deduction, empiricism and theory. Data gathered via observation and experimentation provides essential clues about the structure and function of the natural world. Theory organizes this information into a cohesive conceptual framework that explains existing data and yields new predictions that can be tested by gathering and analyzing additional data. The spectacular advances in science are largely due to the iterative process of induction and deduction, prediction and testing. It is our contention that progress in ecology will be significantly enhanced by recognizing the positive role of this dialectic tension of discovery, particularly through explicit work to integrate emerging theoretical frameworks in ecology.
This workshop, Frontiers of Ecological Theory Integration, seeks to synthesize, integrate and unify ecological theories. It will be the second meeting of a formal international academic collaboration network, the Network for Ecological Theory Integration (NETI), whose founding members are a group of scientists from Chile, the US, Australia, and Europe, many of whom are associated with the Santa Fe Institute. The first NETI meeting was held in Chile (2014) and the third will be held in Prague (2018). NETI´s main focus is to promote integration of mathematical theories in ecology, with a particular focus on metabolic theory, neutral theory, maximum entropy theory, and network theory. We are particularly interested in efficient theories, i.e., theories which are based in first principles, quantitative, and prediction rich. The scientists involved with NETI seek to balance the current emphasis upon big data by emphasizing the need for big theory in biology and ecology in particular. Such synthesis and integration of theory provides an important step forward in understanding the structure and dynamics of ecological complexity, which is needed to provide more informed and useful answers to the pressing problems facing humanity.