The Powers That Might Be

Two ecologists and a physicist hone a theory with the potential to unify all of biology. Can they extend its reach while fending off critics?

By Bob Grant


1 introduced the group's theory and has been cited more than 700 times. While attracting a fair share of praise, it has also proved a magnet for criticism. "We've created a cottage industry for critics," says Brown, an ecologist at the University of New Mexico. "There are whole labs out there that get the vast majority of their publications from criticizing our stuff."

And as West, Brown, and Enquist bounce ideas around a glass-walled conference room, they are crafting their strategy to stave off the next round of critiques. "We absorb the criticism and move forward," Enquist says.

West, the team member most likely to voice the excitement for the potential of their theory, is...

1. G.B. West et al., "A general model for the origin of allometric scaling laws in biology," Science, 276:122-6, 1997. [PubMed]
2. J. Kozlowski and J. Weiner, "Interspecific allometries are by-products of body size optimization," Am Nat, 149:352-80, 1997.
3. H.C. Meller-Landau et al., "Testing metabolic ecology theory for allometric scaling of tree size, growth, and mortality in tropical forests," Ecol Lett, 9:575-88, 2006.[PubMed]
4. H.C. Meller-Landau et al., "Comparing tropical forest tree size distributions with the predictions of metabolic ecology and equilibrium models," Ecol Lett, 9:589-602, 2006.[PubMed]
5. Gillooly et al., "Effect of size and temperature on metabolic rate," Science, 293:2248-51, 2001.[PubMed]

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