Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 529–544 | Cite as

But is it progress? On the alleged advances of conservation biology over ecology



As conservation biology has developed as a distinct discipline from ecology, conservation guidelines based on ecological theory have been largely cast aside in favor of theory-independent decision procedures for designing conservation reserves. I argue that this transition has failed to advance the field toward its aim of preserving biodiversity. The abandonment of island biogeography theory in favor of complementarity-based algorithms is a case in point. In what follows, I consider the four central objections raised against island biogeographic conservation guidelines, arguing that they fail to undermine the credibility of this framework as a conservation tool. At best, these objections call for a more careful application of this framework to conservation problems, not its wholesale abandonment. At the same time, complementarily-based algorithms are biased in favor of networks of small reserves containing non-overlapping species. These conditions threaten to promote inbreeding depression, genetic drift and other factors that increase a population’s risk of extinction. Therefore, recent developments in the field of conservation biology have arguably not contributed to its ultimate aim of preserving the maximum amount of biodiversity in the long run.


Biodiversity Complementarity Conservation biology Ecology Island biogeography theory Philosophy of ecology 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biohumanities Project, School of History, Philosophy, Religion and ClassicsUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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