Conceptualizing Communities as Natural Entities: A Philosophical Argument with Basic and Applied Implications

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Steen, David, A.; Barrett, Kyle; Clarke, Ellen; Guyer, Craig
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preprint description
Recent work has suggested that conservation efforts such as restoration ecology and invasive species eradication are largely value-driven pursuits. Concurrently, changes to global climate are forcing ecologists to consider if and how collections of species will migrate, and whether or not we should be assisting such movements. Herein, we propose a philosophical framework which addresses these issues by utilizing ecological and evolutionary interrelationships to delineate individual ecological communities. Specifically, our Evolutionary Community Concept (ECC) recognizes unique collections of species that interact and have co-evolved in a given geographic area. We argue this concept has implications for a number of contemporary global conservation issues. Specifically, our framework allows us to establish a biological and science-driven context for making decisions regarding the restoration of systems and the removal of exotic species. The ECC also has implications for how we view shifts in species assemblages due to climate change and it advances our understanding of various ecological concepts, such as resilience.