Laws in ecology: diverse modes of explanation for a holistic science?

Gunton, Richard and Gilbert, Francis (2017) Laws in ecology: diverse modes of explanation for a holistic science? Zygon, 52 (2). pp. 538-560. ISSN 1467-9744

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Ecology’s reputation as a holistic and soft science is partly due to widespread misconceptions of its nature as well as shortcomings in its methodology. We show how the pursuit of empirical laws of ecology can foster the emergence of a more unified and predictive ecology based on complementary modes of explanation. Numerical analyses of population dynamics have a distinguished pedigree, spatial analyses successfully generate predictive laws for macroecology and physical analyses are tyically pursued by the ecosystem approach. The most characteristically ecological laws, however, are found in biotic analyses within the ‘functional trait’ paradigm. Holistic credentials for ecology may thus be restored on two bases: its accommodating complementary modes of analysis and explanation, and its having some laws within the least reductionistic mode consistent with its subject matter. These claims, grounded in the aspectual theory of Herman Dooyeweerd, lead to some suggestions for enhancing the versatility and usefulness of ecology – and other sciences – by balancing different research paradigms under a holistic vision.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the pre-peer reviewed version of the following article: Gunton, R. and Gilbert, F. (2017), Laws in ecology: diverse modes of explanation for a holistic science?. Zygon®, 52: 538–560, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.
Keywords: abstraction, biotic, physical, spatial, numerical, [mode], [holistic], paradigm, reductionism
Schools/Departments: University of Nottingham, UK > Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Life Sciences
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Gilbert, Francis
Date Deposited: 07 Mar 2017 12:10
Last Modified: 04 May 2020 19:57

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