• community dynamics;
  • ecosystem dynamics;
  • food web model;
  • paradigm shift;
  • population dynamics


In the course of the 20th century limnology and oceanography have been transformed from purely descriptive disciplines to sciences that champion quantitative approaches and aim to reveal mechanistic relationships. In particular, the increasing use of mathematical formulations and models to understand lakes, streams and oceans as dynamical systems can be viewed as a paradigm shift. The mathematical-dynamical approach is irreversibly integrated into this field and has revolutionized aquatic ecology, although its gradual and on-going adoption is best characterized as an evolutionary process and, therefore, does not meet the criteria of the Kuhnian concept of a paradigm shift. I here show how this new approach historically emerged from the understanding of lakes and oceans as complex yet decomposable systems and describe the development of the new paradigm into the 21st century. I explain methods of validation and give examples of successful applications of the mathematical-dynamical approach. I end with an outlook on some current, promising research directions that may influence the future path of this “ever-evolving paradigm shift.”

Seltsam ist Propheten Lied, doppelt seltsam, was geschieht1

J. W. von Goethe, Weissagungen des Bakis (© 2008 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim)