International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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FRIDAY, JULY 10  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-R515
Individual papers
Modeling Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Scientific methods in ecology and evolution and their epistemic values

Stephanie Meirmans (Universiteit Leiden, Netherlands)

How do scientists in ecology and evolution arrive at knowledge claims? I have used published debates on the values of different methods in the field itself to approach this question. From these debates, it is clear that practitioners have a good intuitive understanding of the value of different methods. I have then made these insights more rigorous and explicit by subjecting them to a more systematic investigation. I found that there are three different basic methods used. First, there is the study of theoretical causal relationships, which is often expressed in mathematical language, but also comprises e.g. thought experiments. Second, one can perform experiments; typically manipulations done in a simplified and controlled environment that can point to the existence of simple causal relationships between natural entities. Third, one can observe nature, typically in a structured and systematic manner, such as the search for natural patterns. These methods can be done with different types of tools and at different levels of organization and timescales. The three methods are often, but not always, exemplified in the scientific cultures of theoreticians, experimenters, and naturalists. The methods can also be combined in various ways, leading to some of the apparent complexity of scientific research methods. Furthermore, I argue that each basic method has its own specific inherent advantages and limitations. Often, the methods are used in combination with each other because they can cover each other’s weaknesses. One very important way to establish robust evidence therefore comes from using several lines of evidence that are derived from different basic methods. Notably, this account of robustness distinguishes itself from other accounts of robustness in that it explicitly addresses the different epistemic values of the three basic methods.

Reconciling community ecology with evidence of animal cultures and social learning: Socially-adapted, localized community dynamics?

Chantelle Marlor (University of the Fraser Valley, Canada)

A growing body of empirical research suggests many animal species are capable of social learning. Social learning has implications for community ecology; changes in behavior can lead to changes in inter- and intraspecific (between and within species) interactions. This paper explores possible implications of social learning for ecological community dynamics. Specifically, it examines the trophic cascade model, using the classic sea otter—sea urchin—kelp cascade as an example. Incorporating social learning and animal culture into models such as this suggests that ecological community dynamics have the potential of being highly localized. Other possible implications of social learning, namely interspecific cultures, species invasion, and socially-created microevolutionary selection pressures are also explored.