Global Ecology addresses a broad range of basic questions. Some of these concern fluxes of matter and energy. For example, what is the role of nutrients in regulating the conversion of carbon dioxide into plant biomass? What is the role of vegetation in modulating climate? Others concern the organization of the Earth's living systems. For example, why is the distribution of the major ecosystem types so consistently related to climate? What controls the broad patterns of biological diversity? These questions probe deeply into the structure and function of the natural world. They have been posed for decades, but we are just entering the stage when the available tools are powerful enough to provide definitive answers.
Global Ecology also provides critical foundations for understanding and solving applied problems. As humans make larger and larger impacts on the Earth's physical and biological systems, we are engaging in a series of vast, unprecedented experiments. Some human actions, such as the continued release of greenhouse gases or the introduction of non-native plants and animals, may lead to massive social and/or economic problems. Understanding the ecological and physical mechanisms behind these impacts can help society develop strategies to prevent detrimental changes as well as adapt to those changes that cannot be prevented.