, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 793-812
Date: 15 Jun 2011

Ecosystem engineering, experiment, and evolution

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Abstract

This paper argues that philosophers should pay more attention to the idea of ecosystem engineering and to the scientific literature surrounding it. Ecosystem engineering is a broad but clearly delimited concept that is less subject to many of the “it encompasses too much” criticisms that philosophers have directed at niche construction. The limitations placed on the idea of ecosystem engineering point the way to a narrower idea of niche construction. Moreover, experimental studies in the ecosystem engineering literature provide detailed accounts of particular empirical situations in which we cannot neglect the O term in dE/dt = g (O, E), which helps us get beyond verbal arguments and simple models purporting to show that niche construction must not be ignored as a factor in evolution. Finally, this literature demonstrates that while ecosystem engineering studies may not require us to embrace a new evolutionary process, as niche construction advocates have claimed, they do teach us that the myriad abiotic factors concealed by the abstract term ‘environment’ are often controlled in large part by organisms.