Human macroecology: linking pattern and process in big-picture human ecology

Authors

  • William R. Burnside,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biology, The University of New Mexico, MSC03 2020, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001, USA
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  • James H. Brown,

    1. Department of Biology, The University of New Mexico, MSC03 2020, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001, USA
    2. Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501-8943, USA
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  • Oskar Burger,

    1. Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Konrad-Zuse-Strasse 1, 18057 Rostock, Germany
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  • Marcus J. Hamilton,

    1. Department of Biology, The University of New Mexico, MSC03 2020, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001, USA
    2. Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501-8943, USA
    3. Department of Anthropology, MSC01-1040, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
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  • Melanie Moses,

    1. Department of Biology, The University of New Mexico, MSC03 2020, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001, USA
    2. Department of Computer Science, MSC01 1130, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
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  • Luis M.A. Bettencourt

    1. Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501-8943, USA
    2. Los Alamos National Laboratory, Theoretical Division, T-7, Mail Stop B284, Los Alamos, NM 87545, USA
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(E-mail: burnsidewr@gmail.com, bburnsid@unm.edu; Tel: +1 505-908-4387).

Abstract

Humans have a dual nature. We are subject to the same natural laws and forces as other species yet dominate global ecology and exhibit enormous variation in energy use, cultural diversity, and apparent social organization. We suggest scientists tackle these challenges with a macroecological approach—using comparative statistical techniques to identify deep patterns of variation in large datasets and to test for causal mechanisms. We show the power of a metabolic perspective for interpreting these patterns and suggesting possible underlying mechanisms, one that focuses on the exchange of energy and materials within and among human societies and with the biophysical environment. Examples on human foraging ecology, life history, space use, population structure, disease ecology, cultural and linguistic diversity patterns, and industrial and urban systems showcase the power and promise of this approach.

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