Ecology or mythology? Are Whittaker's 'gradient analysis' cruves reliable evidence of continuity in vegetation?

J. Bastow Wilson, Andrew D. Q. Agnew, M. T. Sykes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (SciVal)


Whittaker was one of the leading ecologists of his generation, introducing several ideas to plant community ecology. One approach involved deriving environmental-correlation curves in attempts to determine how the abundance of individual species changed along environmental gradients. These curves have been used extensively in the ecological literature of the last 50 years. However, there has been no examination of whether the methods used were sufficiently rigorous to justify Whittaker’s conclusions, let alone the very widespread use of them by others to draw general conclusions. Whittaker’s curves were based on large amounts of fieldwork. However, the sampling methods used were subjective, and the analyses of the data were often circular. When the curves are compared to the data on which they were based, it can be seen that many of the features that Whittaker claimed to see in his graphs are not supported. Whittaker’s main conclusions may have been correct but his studies do not stand up as pieces of scientific work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-253
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • community ecology
  • environmental gradients
  • gradient analysis
  • species abundance
  • Whittaker's curves


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