The principles representing the broadest conceptual domains within ecology, which encompasses extremely broad spatial and temporal scales, have been identified in recent work. These broad scales present challenges to maintaining conceptual and theoretical clarity; however, theory development requires a clear understanding of theoretical components. Although researchers often test hypotheses using existing theories, many endeavors could benefit from a formal structure for examining the theoretical underpinnings of the researchers' work. We present a graphical model to organize the theoretical components underlying any particular research effort. We provide an example and suggest that scientists use this framework to present their research in a robust theoretical context. The benefits of this approach include accurately defining the theoretical components used in research; identifying novel questions while avoiding redundancy; and explicitly linking constituent theories, thereby facilitating integration. Many scientists aspire to have an impact on existing theory, and using this approach provides a succinct framework to identify how an individual's research affects ecological theory.
- philosophy of science