The mechanistic approach of The Theory of Island Biogeography and its current relevance

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Philosophers of science have examined The Theory of Island Biogeography by Robert MacArthur and E. O. Wilson (1967) mainly due to its important contribution to modeling in ecology, but they have not examined it as a representative case of ecological explanation. In this paper, I scrutinize the type of explanation used in this paradigmatic work of ecology. I describe the philosophy of science of MacArthur and Wilson and show that it is mechanistic. Based on this account and in light of contributions to the mechanistic conception of explanation due to Craver (2007), and Bechtel and Richardson (1993), I argue that MacArthur and Wilson use a mechanistic approach to explain the species-area relationship. In light of this examination, I formulate a normative account of mechanistic explanation in ecology. Furthermore, I argue that it offers a basis for methodological unification of ecology and solves a dispute on the nature of ecology. Lastly, I show that proposals for a new paradigm of biogeography appear to maintain the norms of mechanistic explanation implicit in The Theory of Island Biogeography.
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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