Nebraska Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit


Date of this Version



Published in Ecosystems (2002) 5: 315–318 DOI: 10.1007/s10021-001-0075-


The five articles in this special feature extend the discovery of regular patterns of deviation from scaling laws and from continuous distributions of attributes in ecosystems and other complex systems. These patterns suggest that these systems organize over discrete ranges of scale and that organization abruptly shifts with changes in scale. If this is so, scaling laws (for example, see West 1997, 1999; Zipf 1949) serve only as the baseline from which to measure those departures, and those departures indicate “scale breaks” (transitions) between scales of structure in complex systems. Patterns in the deviations from a scaling-law baseline may provide hints of the processes that cause the emergence of the scaling relationships themselves. At minimum, the investigation of departures from scaling laws gives us a clue into the nature of structure and process in ecological systems.