Generalization in ecology and evolutionary biology: From hypothesis to paradigm [Book Review]

Biology and Philosophy 15 (2):211-238 (2000)
We argue that broad, simplegeneralizations, not specifically linked tocontingencies, will rarely approach truth in ecologyand evolutionary biology. This is because mostinteresting phenomena have multiple, interactingcauses. Instead of looking for single universaltheories to explain the great diversity of naturalsystems, we suggest that it would be profitable todevelop general explanatory frameworks. A frameworkshould clearly specify focal levels. The process orpattern that we wish to study defines our level offocus. The set of potential and actual states at thefocal level interacts with conditions at thecontiguous lower and upper levels of organization,through sets of many-to-one and one-to-manyconnections. The number of initiating conditions andtheir permutations at the lower level define thepotential states at the focal level, whereas theactual state is constrained by the upper-levelboundary conditions. The most useful generalizationsare explanatory frameworks, which are road maps tosolutions, rather than solutions themselves. Suchframeworks outline what is understood about boundaryconditions and initiating conditions so that aninvestigator can pick and choose what is required toeffectively understand a specific event or situation. We discuss these relationships in terms of examplesinvolving sex ratio and mating behavior, competitivehierarchies, insect life-histories and the evolutionof sex.
Keywords bottom-up pluralism  competitive hierarchies  contingency  explanation  generalization  life-history  many-to-one  mating behavior  multiple causation  nested hierarchy  one-to-many  scale  sex  sex ratio  triadic system  truth
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Reprint years 2004
DOI 10.1023/A:1006636918716
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