Advertisement

Biological Theory

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 85–98 | Cite as

On the Definition of Ecology

  • Mark SagoffEmail author
Original Article

Abstract

In this article I discuss the proposition that ecologists may place restrictions on the kinds of plants and animals and on the kinds of systems they consider relevant to assessing the resiliency of ecological generalizations. I argue that to restrict the extension of ecological science and its concepts in order to exclude cultivated plants, captive animals, and domesticated environments ecologists must appeal either (1) to the boundaries of their discipline; (2) to the idea that the effects of human activity are rare and unusual enough to count as ceteris paribus conditions; or (3) to the nature/culture divide. The boundaries of their discipline, however, are practical, not epistemological. The effects of human activity are ubiquitous and profound. And the nature/culture divide, as far as I know, has been infra dignitatem in the natural sciences at least since Charles Darwin and John Stuart Mill. Ecologists may reason, moreover, that organisms and systems that have the kind of history that interests them must as a result possess a kind of organization or some other general biological property that distinguishes them from those that do not. This is to commit a genetic fallacy.

Keywords

Definition of ecology Ecological generalizations Genetic fallacy Habitat Invasive species Philosophy of ecology 

Notes

Acknowledgements

I thank Andrew Inkpen for many helpful suggestions.

References

  1. Alberti M, Marzluff JM, Shulenberger E et al (2003) Integrating humans into ecology: opportunities and challenges for studying urban ecosystems. Bioscience 53(12):1169–1179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Fisheries Society (2016) Researchers play matchmaker to save fish population. https://fisheries.org/2016/01/researchers-play-matchmaker-to-save-fish-population/. Accessed 15 Mar 2017
  3. Andrewartha HG (1961) Introduction to the study of animal populations. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  4. Angner E (2015) To navigate safely in the vast sea of empirical facts. Synthese 192(11):3557–3575CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bamford M, Calver M (2014) A precise definition of habitat is needed for effective conservation and communication. Aust Zool 37(2):245–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barringer F (2014) Swim to sea? These salmon are catching a lift. New York Times, April 18Google Scholar
  7. Begon M, Townsend CR, Harper JL (2006) Ecology: from individuals to ecosystems. 4th edn. Blackwell Publishing, MaldenGoogle Scholar
  8. Bellemain E, Ricklefs RE (2008) Are islands the end of the colonization road? Trends Ecol Evol 23(8):461–468CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berkes F, Colding J, Folke C (eds) (2008) Navigating social-ecological systems: building resilience for complexity and change. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  10. Binder CR, Hinkel J, Bots PWG, Pahl-Wostl C (2013) Comparison of frameworks for analyzing social-ecological systems. Ecol Soc 18(4):26.  10.5751/ES-05551-180426 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bradley B (1998) Two ways to talk about change: ‘The child’ of the sublime versus radical pedagogy. In: Bayer BM, Shotter J (eds) Reconstructing the psychological subject: bodies, practices and technologies. Sage Publications, London, pp 68–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brown JH, Sax DF (2004) An essay on some topics concerning invasive species. Austral Ecol 29(5):530–536CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Campbell NA, Reece JB, Taylor MR, Simon EJ, Dickey JL (2009) Biology: concepts and connections, 6th edn. Pearson/Benjamin Cummings, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. Courchamp F, Dunne JA, Le Maho Y, May RM, Thébaud C, Hochberg ME (2015) Fundamental ecology is fundamental. Trends Ecol Evol 30(1):9–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Crawley MJ, Harral JE (2001) Scale dependence in plant biodiversity. Science 291:864–868CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Darwin C (1838–39) Notebook. http://darwin-online.org.uk/converted/published/1960_Notebooks_F1574d.html. Accessed 15 Mar 2017
  17. Daston L (1995) How nature became the other: anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism in early modern natural philosophy. In Biology as society, society as biology: metaphors, pp. 37–56. Springer, NetherlandsCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Davis MA (2009) Invasion biology. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  19. Didham RK, Tylianakis JM, Gemmell NJ, Rand TA, Ewers RM (2007) Interactive effects of habitat modification and species invasion on native species decline. Trends Ecol Evol 22(9):489–496CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dodson SI et al (1998) Ecology. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  21. Ehrlich PR, Ehrlich AH (2013) Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?. In Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol 280, No. 1754, p. 20122845. The Royal Society, LondonGoogle Scholar
  22. Ehrlich PR, Roughgarden J (1987) The science of ecology. Macmillan, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. Ellis EC (2015) Ecology in an anthropogenic biosphere. Ecol Monogr 85(3):287–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ellis EC, Klein Goldewijk K, Siebert S et al (2010) Anthropogenic transformation of the biomes, 1700 to 2000. Global Ecol Biogeogr 19(5):589–606Google Scholar
  25. Ellis EC, Kaplan JO, Fuller DQ et al (2013) Used planet: a global history. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 110(20):7978–7985CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Elton C (1966) The pattern of animal communities. Methuen, LondonGoogle Scholar
  27. ESA (2016) About. Ecological society of America. ESA.org. http://www.esa.org/esa/about. Accessed 26 Oct 2016
  28. Estrada A, Morales-Castilla I, Caplat P, Early R (2016) Usefulness of species traits in predicting range shifts. Trends in ecology evolution 31(3):190–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Falk-Petersen J, Bøhn T, Sandlund OT (2006) On the numerous concepts in invasion biology. Biol Invasions 8(6):1409–1424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fauth JE, Bernardo J, Camara M et al (1996) Simplifying the jargon of community ecology: a conceptual approach. Am Nat 147(2):282–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Flagg TA (2015) Balancing conservation and harvest objectives: a review of considerations for the management of salmon hatcheries in the US Pacific Northwest. North Am J Aquac 77(3):367–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2014) Global aquaculture production. http://www.fao.org/fishery/collection/global-aquaculture-production/en
  33. Foucault M (1986) The care of the self: the history of sexuality, vol 3. Pantheon Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  34. Graedel TE (1996) On the concept of industrial ecology. Annu Rev Energy Env 21(1):69–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gray A (1963) [1860] The origin of species by means of natural selection. In: Dupree AH (ed) Darwiniana. Harvard University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Haberl H, Wackernagel M, Wrbka T (2004) Land use and sustainability indicators. An introduction. Land Use Policy 21(3):193–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Haila Y (2000) Beyond the nature-culture dualism. Biol Philos 15(2):155–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hanski I, Gyllenberg M (1997) Uniting two general patterns in the distribution of species. Science 275:397–400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Harmon LJ, Harrison S (2015) Species diversity is dynamic and unbounded at local and continental scales. Am Nat 185(5):584–593CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Helmus MR, Mahler DL, Losos JB (2014) Island biogeography of the Anthropocene. Nature 513(7519):543–546CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hubbell SB (2001) The unified neutral theory of biodiversity and biogeography. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  42. Inkpen SA (2016) Like Hercules and the Hydra: trade-offs and strategies in ecological model-building and experimental design. Stud Hist Philos Sci Part C 57:34–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Inkpen SA (2017) Are humans disturbing conditions in ecology? Biol Philos 32(1):51–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jarvie IC (1975) Epistle to the anthropologists. Am Anthropol 77(2):253–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Jax K (2006) Ecological units: definitions and application. Q Rev Biol 81(3):237–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Jelinski LW, Graedel TE, Laudise RA et al (1992) Industrial ecology: concepts and approaches. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 89(3):793–797CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Keller EF (2005) Ecosystems, organisms, and machines. Bioscience 55(12):1069–1074CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Knox B, Ladiges P, Evans B, Saint R (2010) Biology: an Australian focus. McGraw-Hill, North RydeGoogle Scholar
  49. Krebs CJ (1972) Ecology. Harper & Row, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  50. Krebs CJ (2001) Ecology. Benjamin Cummings, an imprint of Addison Wesley Longman, Inc, Menlo ParkGoogle Scholar
  51. Lange M (2002) Who’s afraid of ceteris-paribus laws? Or: how I learned to stop worrying and love them. Erkenntnis 57:407–423CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lange M (2005) Ecological laws: what would they be and why would they matter? Oikos 110:394–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Levin SA (1992) The problem of pattern and scale in ecology. Ecology 73:1943–1967CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Levin SA (1998) Ecosystems and the biosphere as complex adaptive systems. Ecosystems 1(5):431–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Levin SA (1999) Towards a science of ecological management. Conserv Ecol 3(2):6. http://www.consecol.org/vol3/iss2/art6/
  56. Levin PS, Williams JG (2002) Interspecific effects of artifically propagated fish: an additional conservation risk for salmon. Conserv Biol 16(6):1581–1587CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Linquist S, Gregory TR, Elliott TA et al (2016) Yes! There are resilient generalizations (or “laws”) in ecology. Q Rev Biol 91(2):119–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Litrico I, Violle C (2015) Diversity in plant breeding: a new conceptual framework. Trends Plant Sci 20(10):604–613CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. MacArthur RH, Wilson EO (1967) The theory of island biogeography. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  60. Macdonald IA, Loope LL, Usher MB, Hamann O (1989) Wildlife conservation and the invasion of nature reserves by introduced species: a global perspective. In: Biological invasions: a global perspective. Wiley, New York, pp 215–255Google Scholar
  61. Mader SS (2004) Biology. 8th edn. McGraw-Hill, North RydeGoogle Scholar
  62. Magnusson WE (2013) The words “population” and “community” have outlived their usefulness in ecological publications. Natureza e Conservação 11(1):1–8. doi: 10.4322/natcon.2013.007 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Malinowski B (1945) In: Kaberry PM (ed) The dynamics of cultural change: an inquiry into race relations in Africa. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  64. McNaughton SJ, Wolf LL (1973) General ecology. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  65. Mill JS (1875) Nature, the utility of religion, and theism. Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, London. Mill’s “Essay on Nature” is available at https://archive.org/details/a592828200milluoft
  66. Milla R, Osborne CP, Turcotte MM, Violle C (2015) Plant domestication through an ecological lens. Trends Ecol Evol 30(8):463–469CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Mitchell SC (2005) How useful is the concept of habitat?–a critique. Oikos 110(3):634–638CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. O’Neill RV (2001) Is it time to bury the ecosystem concept (with full military honors, of course!). Ecology 82(12):3275–3284Google Scholar
  69. Odum EP (1969) The strategy of ecosystem development. Science 164(3877):262–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Odum EP (1971) Fundamentals of ecology, 3rd edn. WB Saunders Company, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  71. Oster S (2010) China’s tiger farms spark a standoff. Wall Street J. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703455804575057101418533006.html
  72. Pounds JA, Puschendorf R (2004) Ecology: clouded futures. Nature 427:107–109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Pyšek P, Richardson DM, Pergl J, Jarošík V, Sixtová Z, Weber E (2008) Geographical and taxonomic biases in invasion ecology. Trends Ecol Evol 23(5):237–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Reichard SH, Hamilton CW (1997) Predicting invasions of woody plants introduced into North America. Conserv Biol 11(1):193–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Reichard SH, White P (2001) Horticulture as a pathway of invasive plant introductions in the United States most invasive plants have been introduced for horticultural use by nurseries, botanical gardens, and individuals. Bioscience 51(2):103–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Ricciardi A (2014) Biological invasions simply explained. Bioscience 64(2):154–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Richardson DM, Ricciardi A (2013) Misleading criticisms of invasion science: a field guide. Divers Distrib 19(12):1461–1467CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Richardson DM, Pyšek P, Rejmánek M et al (2000) Naturalization and invasion of alien plants: concepts and definitions. Diver Distrib 6(2):93–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Robinson TP, Wint GW, Conchedda G et al (2014) Mapping the global distribution of Livestock. PLoS One 9(5):e96084CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Rosenzweig M (1999) Heeding the warning in biodiversity’s basic law. Science 284(5412):276–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Sagoff M (2016) Are there general causal forces in ecology? Synthese 193:3003–3024CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Scheiner SM, Willig MR (2008) A general theory of ecology. Theor Ecol 1(1):21–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Schoener TW (1986) Mechanistic approaches to community ecology: a new reductionism. Am Zool 26(1):81–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Secord JA (1981) Nature’s fancy: Charles Darwin and the breeding of pigeons. Isis 72:163–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Shelford MB (1913) The decline of primeval communities at the head of Lake Michigan. In: Shelford VE (ed) Animal communities in temperate America. University of Chicago, ChicagoCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Simberloff D (2010) Invasions of plant communities–more of the same, something very different, or both? Am Midl Nat 163(1):220–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Simberloff D, Souza L, Nuñez MA, Barrios-Garcia MN, Bunn W (2012) The natives are restless, but not often and mostly when disturbed. Ecology 93(3):598–607CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Simberloff D, Martin JL, Genovesi P et al (2013) Impacts of biological invasions: what’s what and the way forward. Trends Ecol Evol 28(1):58–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Smil V (1991) General energetics: energy in the biosphere and civilization. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  90. Stiling P (1992) Ecology. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle RiverGoogle Scholar
  91. Stohlgren, T.J., Barnett, D.T. and Kartesz, J.T., 2003. The rich get richer: patterns of plant invasions in the United States. Front Ecol Environ 1(1):11–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Thomas CD (2015) Rapid acceleration of plant speciation during the Anthropocene. Trends Ecol Evol 30(8):448–455CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Thomas CD, Palmer G (2015) Non-native plants add to the British flora without negative consequences for native diversity. Proc Natl Acad Sci 112(14):4387–4392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Thompson K (2014) Where do camels belong? The story and science of invasive species. Profile Books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  95. Valéry L, Fritz H, Lefeuvre JC (2013) Another call for the end of invasion biology. Oikos 122(8):1143–1146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Vellend M (2014) The value of biodiversity: a humbling analysis. Trends Ecol Evol 29:138–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Villee CA (1972) Biology. WB Saunders Compamy, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  98. Voget FW (1975) A history of ethnology. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  99. Wagner MR, Block WM, Geils BW, Wenger KF (2000) Restoration ecology. J For 98(10):22–27Google Scholar
  100. Walker BH, Gunderson LH, Kinzig AP et al (2006) A handful of heuristics and some propositions for understanding resilience in social-ecological systems. Ecol Soc 11(1):13. http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss1/art13/
  101. Weber M (1949) [1904] Objectivity in social science and social policy. In: Shilsand EA, Finch HA (eds) The methodology of the social sciences. Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  102. Whittaker RH, Levin SA, Root RB (1973) Niche, habitat, and ecotope. Am Nat 107(955):321–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) (2008) Eating our future: the environmental impact of industrial animal agriculture. http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/themes/animal-welfare/news-detail/en/c/12203/. Accessed 15 Mar 2017
  104. World Wildlife Fund (2014) More tigers in American backyards than in the wild. https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/more-tigers-in-american-backyards-than-in-the-wild. Accessed 15 Mar 2017

Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Philosophy and Public PolicyGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

Personalised recommendations