Abstract
Ecology is usually described as the study of organisms interacting with one another and their environments. From this view of ecology, viruses – not usually considered to be organisms – would merely be part of the environment. Since the late 1980s, however, a growing stream of micrographic, experimental, molecular, and model-based (theoretical) research has been investigating how and why viruses should be understood as ecological actors of the most important sort. Viruses, especially phage, have been revealed as participants in the planet's most crucial food webs, even though viruses technically consume nothing (they do not metabolize by themselves). Even more impressively, viruses have been identified as regulators of planetary biogeochemistry, in which they control cycles such as carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus – cycles on which all life depends. Although much biogeochemical research black-boxes the entities filling functional roles, it is useful to focus a little more closely to understand how viruses can be held responsible for the global processes of life. This paper will give a brief overview of the history of virus ecology and tease out the implications of large-scale ecological modelling with viruses. This analysis suggests that viruses should be conceptualized as ecological actors that are at least comparable and possibly equal to organismal actors. Ecological agency can therefore be distinguished from standard interpretations of biological agency.
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2016.02.012
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Mutualistic Viruses and the Heteronomy of Life.Thomas Pradeu - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 59:80-88.
Action.George Wilson - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Struggling with the Science of Ecology.Jay Odenbaugh - 2006 - Biology and Philosophy 21 (3):395-409.
Viral Information.Forest Rohwer & Katie Barott - 2013 - Biology and Philosophy 28 (2):283-297.

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