Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 32, Issue 6, pp 1019–1034 | Cite as

Conceptualizing communities as natural entities: a philosophical argument with basic and applied implications

  • David A. Steen
  • Kyle BarrettEmail author
  • Ellen Clarke
  • Craig Guyer


Recent work has suggested that conservation efforts such as restoration ecology and invasive species eradication are largely value-driven pursuits. Concurrently, changes to global climate are forcing ecologists to consider if and how collections of species will migrate, and whether or not we should be assisting such movements. Herein, we propose a philosophical framework which addresses these issues by utilizing ecological and evolutionary interrelationships to delineate individual ecological communities. Specifically, our Evolutionary Community Concept (ECC) recognizes unique collections of species that interact and have co-evolved in a given geographic area. We argue this concept has implications for a number of contemporary global conservation issues. Specifically, our framework allows us to establish a biological and science-driven context for making decisions regarding the restoration of systems and the removal of exotic species. The ECC also has implications for how we view shifts in species assemblages due to climate change and it advances our understanding of various ecological concepts, such as resilience.


Climate change Community Invasive species Resilience Reference condition Restoration 



C. Murray provided helpful discussion and assisted in conceptualization of figures. K. Smith, L. Smith, M. Conner, N. Chadwick, J. Grand, C. Anderson, J. Maerz, C. Murray, J. Stiles, S. Stiles, D. Alix, C. Romagosa, J. Goessling, D. Laurencio, M. Wines and B. Folt provided comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. E.P. Cox and Auburn University librarians and staff provided assistance obtaining references. K. Barrett received support from Clemson University’s College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences during the preparation of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • David A. Steen
    • 1
  • Kyle Barrett
    • 2
    Email author
  • Ellen Clarke
    • 3
    • 4
  • Craig Guyer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forestry and Environmental ConservationClemson UniversityClemsonUSA
  3. 3.All Souls CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  4. 4.School of Philosophy, Religion and History of ScienceUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

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