Methodological problems in evolutionary biology

Acta Biotheoretica 40 (4) (1992)
One of the major criticisms of optimal foraging theory (OFT) is that it is not testable. In discussions of this criticism opposing parties have confused methodological concepts and used meaningless biological concepts. In this paper we discuss such misunderstandings and show that OFr has an empirically testable, and even well-confirmed, general core theory. One of our main conclusions is that specific model testing should not be aimed at proving optimality, but rather at identifying the context in which certain types of behaviour are optimal. To do this, it is necessary to be aware of the assumptions made in testing a model. The assumptions that are explicitly stated in the literature up to now do not completely cover the actual assumptions made in testing OFT models in practice. We present a more comprehensive set of assumptions. Although all the assumptions play a role in testing models, they are not of equal status. Crucial assumptions concern constraints and the relation between fitness and currency. Therefore, it is essential to make such assumptions testable in practice. We show that a more explicit relationship between OFT modelling and evolutionary theory can help with this. Specifically, phylogeny reconstruction and population dynamic modelling can and should be used to formulate assumptions concerning constraints and currencies.
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