A continuing discussion in applied and theoretical ecology focuses on the relationship of different organisational levels and on how ecological systems interact across scales. We address principal approaches to cope with complex across-level issues in ecology by applying elements of hierarchy theory and the theory of complex adaptive systems. A top-down approach, often characterised by the use of statistical techniques, can be applied to analyse large-scale dynamics and identify constraints exerted on lower levels. Current developments are illustrated with examples from the analysis of within-community spatial patterns and large-scale vegetation patterns. A bottom-up approach allows one to elucidate how interactions of individuals shape dynamics at higher levels in a self-organisation process; e.g., population development and community composition. This may be facilitated by various modelling tools, which provide the distinction between focal levels and resulting properties. For instance, resilience in grassland communities has been analysed with a cellular automaton approach, and the driving forces in rodent population oscillations have been identified with an agent-based model. Both modelling tools illustrate the principles of analysing higher level processes by representing the interactions of basic components.The focus of most ecological investigations on either top-down or bottom-up approaches may not be appropriate, if strong cross-scale relationships predominate. Here, we propose an 'across-scale-approach', closely interweaving the inherent potentials of both approaches. This combination of analytical and synthesising approaches will enable ecologists to establish a more coherent access to cross-level interactions in ecological systems. ?? 2010 Gesellschaft f??r ??kologie.