Lakes and rivers as microcosms, version 2.0



Limnology has been greatly influenced by The Lake as a Microcosm (Forbes, 1887), which described a holistic focus on the internal machinations of singular, island-like aquatic ecosystems. I consider three persistent influences of The Lake as a Microcosm: as an organizing paradigm for the teaching of limnology relative to its practice; the idea that inland waters are like islands, and the replicability of types of inland waters. Based on inspection of recent peer-reviewed literature and 32 limnology texts, we teach limnology according to Forbes but do not practice it in that holistic context. Instead, we practice limnology as aquatic ecology. Based on novel analyses of species-area relationships for 275 inland waters and 392 islands, inland waters are more like continental habitat patches than islands; the island metaphor is poetic but not accurate. Based on a quantitative review of beta diversity (40 data sets representing 10,576 inland waters and 26 data sets representing 1529 terrestrial sites), aquatic systems are no more replicable than are terrestrial systems; a typological approach to limnology is no more justified than it is in terrestrial systems. I conclude that a former distinction between limnology and aquatic ecology no longer applies, and that we should define limnology as the ecology of inland waters. Also, we should not consider lakes and rivers as islands that represent other systems of the same type, but should consider them as open, interactive habitat patches that vary according to their geology and biogeography. I suggest modern limnology operates according to 3 paradigms, which combine to form 3 broad limnological disciplines and establish a basis for a plural, interactive view of lakes and rivers as microcosms. This model of modern limnology may help better connect it to ecology and biogeography and help limnology be even more relevant to science and society.



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limnology, aquatic ecology, biogeography, paradigms, species-area relationships, beta diversity
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How to Cite
Jenkins DG. Lakes and rivers as microcosms, version 2.0. J Limnol [Internet]. 2013 Aug. 26 [cited 2021 Aug. 2];73(s1). Available from:

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