, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 359-384

The competition controversy in community ecology

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Abstract

There is a long history of controversy in ecology over the role of competition in determining patterns of distribution and abundance, and over the significance of the mathematical modeling of competitive interactions. This paper examines the controversy. Three kinds of considerations have been involved at one time or another during the history of this debate. There has been dispute about the kinds of regularities ecologists can expect to find, about the significance of evolutionary considerations for ecological inquiry, and about the empirical credentials of theoretical studies of competition. Each of these elements is examined with an eye toward gaining philosophical clarification of the issues involved. In the process, certain shortcomings of contemporary philosophical theories are revealed. In particular, I argue that plausibility arguments based on background considerations are an important part of the model building tradition, but that current accounts of the structure and evaluation of scientific theories do little to illuminate this side of theoretical ecology.