Testing the Effect of Life on Earth's Functioning: How Gaian Is the Earth System?
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The Gaia hypothesis of Lovelock states that life regulates Earth's functioning for its own benefit, maintaining habitable, or even optimum conditions for life. But what is beneficial? What is good for one species, may be bad for another. Problems associated with this important, but ill-defined hypothesis make it difficult to test. In order to address these problems and make the concept of Gaia testable, I give a precise definition of terms. Based on these definitions, I put forward four null hypotheses, describing increasing beneficial effects of life on the conditions of Earth, ranging from an ‘Antigaian’ to an ‘optimising Gaian’ null hypothesis. I list some indications for rejection of all but one hypothesis, and conclude that life has indeed a strong tendency to affect Earth in a way which enhances the overall benefit (that is, carbon uptake). However, this does not imply that the biota regulates Earth's environment for its own benefit.
KeywordsBeneficial Effect Null Hypothesis Optimum Condition Earth System Strong Tendency
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