Populations as individuals
Biological Theory 4 (3):267-273 (2009)
|Abstract||Biologists studying ecology and evolution use the term “population” in many different ways. Yet little philosophical analysis of the concept has been done, either by biologists or philosophers, in contrast to the voluminous literature on the concept of “species.” This is in spite of the fact that “population” is arguably a far more central concept in ecological and evolutionary studies than “species” is. The fact that such a central concept has been employed in so many different ways is potentially problematic for the reason that inconsistent usages (especially when the usage has not been made explicit) might lead to false controversies in which disputants are simply talking past one another. However, the inconsistent usages are not the only, or even the most important reason to examine the concept. If any set of organisms is legitimately called a “population,” selection and drift processes become purely arbitrary, too. Moreover, key ecological variables, such as abundance and distribution, depend on a nonarbitrary way of identifying populations. I sketch the beginnings of a population concept, drawing inspiration from the Ghiselin-Hull individuality thesis, and show why some alternative approaches are nonstarters.|
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