A. S. Watt in his classic paper, “Pattern and process in the plant community” (1947), isolated a central dilemma of modern ecology.
…clearly it is one thing to study the plant community and assess the effects of factors which obviously and directly influence it, and another to study the interrelations of all components of the ecosystem with an equal equipment in all branches of knowledge concerned. With a limited objective, whether it be climate, soil, animals or plants [populations] which are elevated into the central prejudiced position, much of interest and importance to the subordinate studies and… to the central study itself is set aside. To have the ultimate even if idealistic objective of fusing the shattered fragments into the original unity is of great scientific and practical importance; practical because so many problems in nature are problems of the ecosystem rather than of soil, animals or plants [populations], and scientific because it is our primary business to understand…. [As] T. S. Eliot said of Shakespeare’s work: we must know all of it in order to know any of it.