Ecological Kinds and the Units of Conservation

Dissertation, The Australian National University (2018)
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Conservation has often been conducted with the implicit internalization of Aldo Leopold’s claim: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.” This position has been found to be problematic as ecological science has not vindicated the ecological community as an entity which can be stable or coherent. Ecological communities do not form natural kinds, and this has forced ecological scientists to explain ecology in a different manner. Individualist approaches to ecological systems have gained prominence. Individualists claim that ecological systems are better explained at the population level rather than as whole communities. My thesis looks at the implications of the current state of ecological science on conservation biology and emphasizes the importance of biodiversity as assessed at the population level. I defend the position that biodiversity should represent taxonomy and be quantified in reference to phylogenetic structure. This is a defence of biodiversity realism, which conceives of biodiversity as a natural quantity in the world which is measurable, valuable to prudent agents, and causally salient to ecological systems. To address how biodiversity at the population level relates to larger ecological systems I create a methodology designed to identify the relevant ecological system which biodiversity maintains and is maintained by biodiversity. This is done through the context dependent modelling of causal networks indexed to populations. My causal modelling methodology is then utilized to explicate ecological functions. These chapters together provide a framework for conservation science, which can then be applied to novel problems. The final section of the thesis utilises this framework to address whether de-extinction is a worthwhile conservation technique.

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Christopher Lean
University of Sydney


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