Andrew Allen, James Brown,, Pablo Marquet

Paper #: 14-06-018

We argue for expanding the role of theory in ecology to accelerate scientific progress, enhance ability to address environmental challenges, foster the development of synthesis and unification, and improve design of experiments and large-scale environmental monitoring programs. To achieve these goals it is essential to foster the development of what we call “efficient” theories, which have several key attributes. Efficient theories 1) are grounded in first principles, 2) are usually expressed in the language of mathematics, 3) make few assumptions and generate a large number of predictions per free parameter, 4) are approximate, and 5) their predictions provide well understood standards for comparison with empirical data. We contend that the development and successive refinement of efficient theories provide a solid foundation for advancing environmental science in the era of Big Data.