Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Biological Function

  • Caitrin DonovanEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_2097-1



In biology, functions are attributed to the traits, behaviors, and parts of living things. A thing’s function can refer to its purpose, a benefit it confers on an organism, or the causal role it contributes to a more complex system capacity.


Biologists attribute functions to a diversity of natural phenomena, from chemical and cellular processes to the organs, traits, and behavior of organisms. It is common for them to say, for example, that the koala’s pouch has the function of protecting its young, that the function of the bee dance is to direct other bees to pollen, or that chlorophyll in plants functions to absorb light and convert it into energy. Yet the term “function” is ambiguous, carrying importantly different meanings and occupying distinct explanatory projects in the biological sciences. This entry will introduce two characteristic features of biological functions,...

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of SydneySydneyAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Karin Machluf
    • 1
  1. 1.Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA