The modification of the physical environment by organisms is a critical interaction in most ecosystems. The concept of ecosystem engineering acknowledges this fact and allows ecologists to develop the conceptual tools for uncovering general patterns and building broadly applicable models. Although the concept has occasioned some controversy during its development, it is quickly gaining acceptance among ecologists. We outline the nature of some of these controversies and describe some of the major insights gained by viewing ecological systems through the lens of ecosystem engineering. We close by discussing areas of research where we believe the concept of organisms as ecosystem engineers will be most likely to lead to significant insights into the structure and function of ecological systems.
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Vol. 56 • No. 3