Thomas Lewinsohn

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2018/2019
discipline Environmental Biology
Professor of Ecology, University of Campinas

Research project

Community Ecology – Conceptual Development, Current Standing, Future Prospects


Up to the mid-20th century, community ecology was the chief field of activity of many Central European plant ecologists, whereas most American and British ecologists considered it essentially descriptive, on a lower standing than the more dynamic areas of population ecology and ecosystem ecology. The status of community ecology has risen steadily since then, largely because of increasing demands and expectations on ecology to address environmental problems. Nowadays community ecology is engaged in various critical applications, such as conservation; disease, invasion and pest management; ecosystem services; and the prediction and adaptation to global changes.

Though it is widely accepted as one of the major subdivisions of ecology, community ecology has encompassed strikingly different research objects, questions and methods – so much so as to raise the possibility that nothing unified them except the common designation. Moreover, new scientific fields are emerging in the environmental arena, driven both by demands such as those above and by instrumental, computational and analytical advances (e.g. spatial ecology, ecophylogenetics, biodiversity science). The status of community ecology within this expanding scientific landscape is again being called in question.


I propose to contemplate the scientific development of community ecology in its wider sense over the last 50 years. Initial questions are, first, whether the longstanding disunity of community ecology still marks it today, or whether this has been largely resolved. Second, in relation to other adjoining or budding scientific fields, is community ecology being updated without changing its conceptual core; or, instead, will it be absorbed into a novel configuration of ecological disciplines? These questions are to be examined in theoretical and conceptual studies of community ecology, together with actual scientific practice as revealed in published research.

A secondary line to explore is the graphical representation of communities, and how it has evolved both in form and content, with attention to metaphors and borrowings from other fields.




Thomas Lewinsohn is Professor of Ecology at the University of Campinas. He holds a PhD in Sciences, Ecology from the University of Campinas in Brazil.

Thomas Lewinsohn challenges the narrowness of a profile. In his research, he switches from fieldwork to physical and mathematical models, from scientific communication to conservation policy. He believes that it is not enough to develop theories without understanding how the organism behaves in the environment.

Selected publications


'Land-use intensification causes multitrophic homogenization of grassland communities', with M. Gossner et al., Nature, vol. 540, 2016, pp. 266-269.

'Ecological literacy and beyond: Problem-based learning for future professionals', with J.L. Attayde et al., AMBIO, vol. 44, 2015, pp. 154-162.


'Structure in plant-animal interaction assemblages', with P. I. Prado et al., Oikos, vol. 113, 2006, pp. 174-184.


'Insects on plants: Diversity of herbivore assemblages revisited', with V. Novotny & Y. Basset, Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, vol. 36, 2005, pp. 597-620.


'How many species are there in Brazil?', with P.I. Prado, Conservation Biology, vol. 19, 2005, pp. 619-624.



junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Social Anthropology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Humanities and Social Sciences
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Anthropology