Marine Sciences: from natural history to ecology and back, on Darwin's shoulders
AbstractThe naturalist Charles Darwin founded modern ecology, considering in a single conceptual framework the manifold aspects regarding the organization of life at various levels of complexity and its relationship with the physical world. The development of powerful analytical tools led to abandon Darwin's natural history and to transform naturalists, as Darwin labelled himself, into the practitioners of more focused disciplines, aimed at tackling specific problems that considered the various aspects of the organization of life in great detail but, also, in isolation from each other. Among the various disciplines that stemmed from the Darwinian method, ecology was further split into many branches, and marine ecology was no exception. The compartmentalization of the marine realm into several sub-domains (e.g., plankton, benthos, nekton) led to neglect of the connections linking the various parts that were separated for the ease of analyses that, in this way, prevented synthetic visions. The way marine sciences were studied also led to separate visions depending on the employed tools, so that ship-based biological oceanography developed almost separately from marine station-based marine biology. The necessity of putting together such concepts as biodiversity and ecosystem functioning is rapidly leading to synthetic approaches that re-discover the historical nature of ecology, leading to the dawn of a new natural history.
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