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An objective view of biological diversity: how history and epistemology shaped current treatment

Abstract

The concept of biological diversity has inspired important discussions throughout the history of ecology. Although its meaning and usefulness have been questioned, it is currently one of the key artifacts of ecology. One way to try to understand why such a concept has undergone so many discussions is to examine its emergence and history from the epistemology perspective. In the present work, we investigated how the emergence of mechanical objectivity (as an epistemic virtue) and trained judgment affected how ecologists address the concept of biological diversity. Thus, we employed the theoretical framework of objectivity (provided by Daston and Galison in Objectivity. Zone Books, New York, 2007) to analyze different periods of scientific literature in ecology (“initial period”: end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century; “intermediate period”: mid-twentieth century; “contemporary period”: from the second half of the 1980s). Our results showed that the emergence of mechanical objectivity and trained judgment affected biological diversity research. In particular, the ideal of objectivity behind the way in which the concept of biological diversity is addressed in different fields of contemporary ecology could not be the same.

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Notes

  1. Evidently, Clements directed his criticism at Plantesamfund, published in 1895, the original for the English version of Oecology of plants, 1909, which we are employing in the present study.

  2. It is possible that such guidance reflects the reliance of Clements on his organismic conception of the vegetation, with each species occurrence being mechanistically related to the species present previously. One who conceives of vegetation in this manner certainly should propose that replicate quadrats to sample vegetation in space are unnecessary, and should invest efforts in the analysis of how species are temporally related in a local plot.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Fapesb (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado da Bahia) for funding this research. We would like to thank Dr. Pedro Rocha, Dr. Suani Pinho, Dr. Gilson Correia de Carvalho, Dr. Mauro Ramalho (all from the Federal University of Bahia) and Dr. Sabrina Borges Lino Araújo (from the Federal University of Paraná), and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the manuscript.

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Eduardo, A.A., Carmo, R. An objective view of biological diversity: how history and epistemology shaped current treatment. Theory Biosci. 136, 113–122 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12064-017-0245-2

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Keywords

  • Biodiversity
  • Objectivity
  • Epistemic virtue
  • Ecology
  • Species