A persistence enhancing propensity account of ecological function to explain ecosystem evolution

Synthese 194 (4) (2017)
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We argue that ecology in general and biodiversity and ecosystem function research in particular need an understanding of functions which is both ahistorical and evolutionarily grounded. A natural candidate in this context is Bigelow and Pargetter’s evolutionary forward-looking account which, like the causal role account, assigns functions to parts of integrated systems regardless of their past history, but supplements this with an evolutionary dimension that relates functions to their bearers’ ability to thrive and perpetuate themselves. While Bigelow and Pargetter’s account focused on functional organization at the level of organisms, we argue that such an account can be extended to functional organization at the community and ecosystem levels in a way that broadens the scope of the reconciliation between ecosystem ecology and evolutionary biology envisioned by many BEF researchers. By linking an evolutionary forward-looking account of functions to the persistence-based understanding of evolution defended by Bouchard and others, and to the theoretical research on complex adaptive systems, we argue that ecosystems, by forming more or less resilient assemblages, can evolve even while they do not reproduce and form lineages. We thus propose a Persistence Enhancing Propensity account of role functions in ecology to account for this overlap of evolutionary and ecological processes



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Author Profiles

Frédéric Bouchard
Université de Montréal
Antoine C. Dussault
Centre Interuniversitaire De Recherche Sur La Science Et La Technologie (CIRST)

References found in this work

Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection.Peter Godfrey-Smith - 2009 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Functional analysis.Robert E. Cummins - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.
Functions.Larry Wright - 1973 - Philosophical Review 82 (2):139-168.
In defense of proper functions.Ruth Millikan - 1989 - Philosophy of Science 56 (June):288-302.

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