The Legend of Order and Chaos: Communities and Early Community Ecology

In Kevin deLaplante, Bryson Browne & Kent A. Peacock (eds.), Philosophy of Ecology. Elsevier. pp. 49--108 (2011)
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Abstract
A community, for ecologists, is a unit for discussing collections of organisms. It refers to collections of populations, which consist (by definition) of individuals of a single species. This is straightforward. But communities are unusual kinds of objects, if they are objects at all. They are collections consisting of other diverse, scattered, partly-autonomous, dynamic entities (that is, animals, plants, and other organisms). They often lack obvious boundaries or stable memberships, as their constituent populations not only change but also move in and out of areas, and in and out of relationships with other populations. Familiar objects have identifiable boundaries, for example, and if communities do not, maybe they are not objects. Maybe they do not exist at all. The question this possibility suggests, of what criteria there might be for identifying communities, and for determining whether such communities exist at all, has long been discussed by ecologists. This essay addresses this question as it has recently been taken up by philosophers of science, by examining answers to it which appeared a century ago and which have framed the continuing discussion.
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