The Restrictive View Ecology as Natural Biological Science

The more restrictive view of ecological science is the one encountered today in most standard textbooks used to teach ecology, and currently has the status of orthodoxy within academic ecology. This view was strongly influenced by the rise of evolutionary and population ecology in the 1960s and 1970s, which reinforced an organism-centered conception of ecology that focused on demographic properties ofpopulations and communities. It also developed in response to the appropriation of the term 'ecology' by the environmental movement during the same period, which pressured ecologists to clarify how ecology differs from a general concern for environmental welfare.

Supporters of the restrictive conception of ecology are inclined to agree with the following claims:

• Ecology is a pluralistic discipline with many subfields, but ultimately it should be understood as a natural (as opposed to social), biological (as opposed to physical) science.

• The ultimate aim of ecology is to explain and predict patterns and changes in the distribution and abundance of organisms. Ecology is, fundamentally, a science of demographic processes. Ecosystem processes acquire their ecological relevance indirectly, in virtue of their impact on demographic properties of ecological systems.

• Ecology focuses on the natural world of plants and animals. Ecology does not study the root causes of human impacts on the environment, or the social ramifications of such impacts. That is the job of the human social sciences and the humanities, and interdisciplinary fields like environmental studies, which should be distinguished from the natural science of ecology.

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