Holobionts and the ecology of organisms: Multi-species communities or integrated individuals?

Biology and Philosophy 31 (6):875-892 (2016)
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It is now widely accepted that microorganisms play many important roles in the lives of plants and animals. Every macroorganism has been shaped in some way by microorganisms. The recognition of the ubiquity and importance of microorganisms has led some to argue for a revolution in how we understand biological individuality and the primary units of natural selection. The term “holobiont” was introduced as a name for the biological unit made up by a host and all of its associated microorganisms, and much of this new debate about biological individuality has focused on whether holobionts are integrated individuals or communities. In this paper, I show how parts of the holobiont can span both characterizations. I argue that most holobionts share more affinities with communities than they do with organisms, and that, except for maybe in rare cases, holobionts do not meet the criteria for being organisms, evolutionary individuals, or units of selection.



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Derek Skillings
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

References found in this work

Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection.Peter Godfrey-Smith - 2009 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
A matter of individuality.David L. Hull - 1978 - Philosophy of Science 45 (3):335-360.
The Major Transitions in Evolution.John Maynard Smith & Eörs Szathmáry - 1996 - Journal of the History of Biology 29 (1):151-152.

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