Methodological Research

Important advances in science accompany methodological breakthroughs. A few of my papers address primarily methodological roadblocks in ecological or evolutionary analyses. These papers represent a departure from the traditional hypothesis-driven study to consider how theory and models can provide practical tools for experimental studies. The first such paper described the rationale for considering plant growth an important link between physiological ecology and population biology (McGraw and Wulff 1983). The conceptual model described how growth is at once an integrated physiological trait, and inextricably linked to plant survival and reproduction because these traits are so strongly determined by size in plants. The second paper of this genre (McGraw and Antonovics 1983) showed how demographic models could be applied at the suborganismal level to project plant growth based on the demography of plant parts. The third such paper described how the modularity of plant architecture could be used to provide non-destructive plant growth analysis parameters (McGraw and Garbutt 1990a,b). During my first sabbatical I wrote a fourth paper developing the philosophy behind a method to use matrix modeling with life history data to yield a measure of individual fitness closely corresponding to that used in the philosophy of biology literature (McGraw and Caswell 1996). In that same paper, I showed how such an approach would change the interpretation of analyses of selection in natural populations with real-world data on bird species. Now, I am working on another method called 'Yellow Taxi Analysis' as an alternative to sensitivity and elasticity analyses in matrix population modeling. Stay tuned!

All of these methodology papers have to some degree influenced studies in physiological ecology and population biology. For example, although the fitness study is recent (1996), already other researchers have adopted this approach in the context of selection analyses, resulting in more rigorous measures of individual fitness, a key component of these analyses.