Faculty Banner



Timothy F. H. Allen

Professor of Botany and Environmental Studies

Ph.D. (1968) University College of North Wales, University of Wales

Office: 326 Birge Hall

Hierarchy theory and problems of scale; epistemology for biological systems; ordination and classification of communities





My formal training was as a plant community ecologist studying algae with multivariate methods of gradient and cluster analyses. These are scaling techniques that launched me into issues of scale in principle, and from there on to complexity itself. My focus is on complexity per se, and so the particular things my students and I study are eclectic. Recent examples are: megafauna extinctions and lumps (after Holling); neural nets analysis of forest fire; pocket pothole and kettle-hole ecosystems; critique of NGOs in Brazil; energy and sustainability; windtunnel experiments on emergent properties of vegetation; ants and beavers and the thermodynamics of biological work; bryophytes in tree blowdowns; complexity in Wisconsin dairy farming; Cedar glade vegetation; runoff systems on campus; Madagascar forest destruction; definition of ecological engineering; industrial metabolism in construction ecology; origins of the genetic code; energy futures and hydrogen.

There are chaos theorists, network analysts and business management gurus who claim pieces of complexity, but their analyses are often incomplete or naive. There are two central issues: thermodynamic emergence and observer-dependent linguistic constraints. The former gives dynamics and self-organized emergence, while the latter gives structure and linguistic control, the recognition of which are an observer’s responsibility. With emergence, contexts change, and so observers must change their decisions as to the structures they assert. Equations usually do not help, because the parameters change. Models are not the point of it all, but narratives improved by challenges from models are. I take a post-modern view, where it is the intrinsic process of science that lends quality. Truth is beside the point, in a complex world perceived in an infinity of ways. Complexity is not a property of nature, rather it comes from the questions we choose to ask.

My research liaisons provide a scale-based theoretical framework for groups at the Northern Lakes Long Term Ecological Research site and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The U. S. Forest Service in Fort Collins, Colorado, and the Science Advisory Board for the US/ Canadian International Joint Commission provide an outlet for me to practical problems.

My sentiments with regard to an appropriate balance between theory and experimentation are with Hutchins' 1933 Commencement Address in Chicago:"The gadgeteers and data collectors, masquerading as scientists, have threatened to become the supreme chieftains of the scholarly world.... As the Renaissance could accuse the Middle Ages of being rich in principles and poor in facts, we are now entitled to inquire whether we are not rich in facts and poor in principles." We are tyrannized by our technology telling us how things work, because that blunts our curiosity and confidence as to how things might otherwise work.


Authored Books

1) Allen , T. F .H., J. A. Tainter, and T. W. Hoekstra. 2003 Supply-side sustainability. Columbia University Press. NY

2) Dodson, S. I., T. F. H. Allen, S. R. Carpenter, A. R. Ives, R. L. Jeanne, J. F. Kitchell, N. E. Langston and M. G. Turner (1998) Ecology. Oxford University Press.

3) Ahl, V. and T. F. H. Allen. 1996. Hierarchy Theory: A Vision, Vocabulary and Epistemology. University of Columbia Press, New York.

4) Allen, T. F. H. and T. W. Hoekstra. 1992. Toward a unified ecology. University of Columbia Press

5) O'Neill, R. V., D. DeAngelis, J. B. Waide and T. F. H. Allen. 1986. A Hierarchical Concept of Ecosystems. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

6) Allen, T. F. H. and T. B. Starr. 1982. Hierarchy: Perspectives for Ecological Complexity. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


Selected Articles and Chapters

Tainter, J. A., T. F. H. Allen, A. Little, and T. W. Hoekstra. 2003. Resource transitions and energy gain: contexts of organization. Conservation Ecology 7(3): 4. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss3/art4

Allen, T. F. H. 2002 Applying the principles of ecological emergence to building design and construction. Ch 4, In: C. Kibert, J. Sendzimir and G. B. Guy, Construction ecology: nature as the basis for green buildings. Spon Press, London.

Allen, T. F. H., Tanya Havlicek, and John Norman. 2001. Wind tunnel experiments to measure vegetation temperature to indicate complexity and functionality. In Sergio Ulgiati ed. Proceedings of the Second Biennial International Workshop on Advances in Energy Studies, Porto Venere, Italy. May 23-27, 2000.

Allen, T. F. H. 2001 Hierarchy theory in Ecology. Entry in the Encyclopedia of Environmetrics. Wiley

Allen,T. F. H., Joseph A. Tainter, J. Christopher Pires and Thomas. W. Hoekstra. 2001. Dragnet Ecology, "Just the facts Ma’am": the privilege of science in a post-modern world. Bioscience 51:475-485

Ahl, V. and T. F. H. Allen. 1996. Hierarchy Theory: A Vision, Vocabulary and Epistemology. University of Columbia Press, New York.

Allen, T. F. H., A. W. King, B. T. Milne, A. Johnson and S. Turner. 1994. The problem of scaling in ecology. Evolutionary Trends in Plants 7:3-8.

Beland P. and T. F. H. Allen. 1994. The origin and evolution of the genetic code.  Journal of Theoretical Biology 170:359-365.

Allen, T. F. H. and T. W. Hoekstra. 1991. Role of heterogeneity in scaling of ecological systems under analysis. In: Ecological Heterogeneity. J. Kolasa and S. Pickett, eds. Springer Verlag, New York. Pp. 47-68.

Allen, T. F. H. 1987. Hierarchical complexity in ecology: a non-euclidean conception of the data space. Vegetation 69:17-25.

Allen, T.F.H, R.V. O'Neill, T.W. Hoekstra. 1984. Interlevel relations in ecological research and management: Some working principles from hierarchy theory.  USDA Forest Service. General Technical Report RM-110, 11 p. Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Fort Collins, Colo.  alleinte.pdf

 Courses | Research Group | Additional Publications | COS Listing | Theory Presentations |Allen Lab | Botany Department

© 2000 University of Wisconsin Department of Botany
Last updated: 19 November 2000