The Expansive View Ecology as Synthetic Systems Science

More expansive conceptions of ecology have also been popular, both within and outside academic ecology. Expansive conceptions of ecology flourished during the heyday of ecosystem and systems ecology under the influence of Eugene and Howard Odum (roughly 1950 to late 1970s). Though currently a minority view in mainstream academic ecology, expansionism has seen a resurgence in certain branches of applied ecology (e.g., systems approaches in conservation ecology and ecosystem management), and it has always been a founda-tional premise of ecological economics and those traditions of human ecology that claim a strong kinship to scientific ecology.

Supporters of a more expansive conception of ecology are likely to agree with the following claims:

• Ecology is a pluralistic discipline with many subfields, and should be understood both as an interdisciplinary science that spans the physical, biological, and social sciences, and as a synthetic science that has as one of its aims to integrate ecologically relevant information from various different spatial and temporal scales and levels of organization, including human social organization.

• The ultimate aim of ecology is to explain and predict properties of living systems (individuals, populations, communities) as functions oftheir relationships to their various biotic and abiotic environments. These properties include, but are not restricted to, demographic processes concerning abundance and distribution of organisms.

• Human beings are the most ecologically influential species on the planet and human ecology - the study of the ecological dimensions of human nature and human behavior, including the root causes of environmental attitudes and practices - is an important and legitimate branch of ecology.

Though there exists a set of research traditions in sociology that bear the name 'human ecology', this expression is better understood as a general umbrella term for a wide range of scientific disciplines that address different aspects of human-environment relations. Human ecology would thus include fields like ecological economics, ecological anthropology, ecological history, and ecological psychology.

The distinction between the restrictive and expansive conceptions of ecology outlined above induces a corresponding distinction between restrictive and expansive conceptions of the philosophy of ecology.

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