Research for the Environment

HANDBOOK OF ECOLOGICAL CONCEPTS (HOEK)

Project leaders and editors:
Prof. Dr. Kurt Jax
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Leipzig and
Department of Ecology, Technische Universität München

Dr. Astrid E. Schwarz
Institut für Philosophie, Technische Universität Darmstadt and
Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, Paris


The Handbook of Ecological Concepts (HOEK) is intended to improve the conceptual foundations of ecology, thus fostering more effective ecological research and a better methodology for the protection and management of biodiversity. It is both a research and an edition project in that it aims to facilitate communication amongst ecologists, conservationists and other users of ecological knowledge as well as philosophers and historians of sciences. After starting the project in 2002, the first (of approximately 8) volumes of the Handbook will be published from 2009/2010 on by Springer. Currently more than 100 scientists from 13 countries are involved, with an emphasis on the European dimension. A first inaugurating interdisciplinary workshop was held in October 2002 at the Maison de Sciences de l' homme in Paris, further workshops followed in Leipzig (2004) and Darmstadt (2006). The research part of the project will bring together scientists from different countries as well as advanced students from such different fields as ecology, philosophy, history, ethnology, conservation biology and linguistics. Research connected directly to the diverse topics dealt with in the handbook will be carried out both in the form of thematically focused projects initiated by smaller groups of contributors as well as through larger workshops and summer schools.

1. Problem statement
2. Aim of the handbook
3. Set-up of the handbook and way of procedure
4. Institutional organization


1. Problem statement

Awareness of the central importance of the efficiency of a technical language has accompanid scientific ecology since its beginnings. However, complaints about woolyness, lacking transparency, incomprehensible terms run through all subdisciplines of ecology. The negative consequences of these deficits are visible both in basic research as in the various fields of its application. In basic research ambiguous terms lead to problems in theory formation and in the ability to communicate theory. In the course of the application of ecological theories in environmental protection and biological conservation the unconscious or neglected conceptual deficits become multiplied and lead to difficulties in communication about the objects of conservation as well as in the identification of adequate management strategies.
In spite of several attempts since the beginning of the 20th century no general agreement on the definition of central concepts nor on their respective uses has been achieved. Only since the mid-1990s attention to the importance of clarifying the relation between concept and defined object has increased in popular discourse as well as in scientific ecology.


1.1 Existing dictionaries in ecology

A number of dictionaries on Ecology exist, yet they are all characterized by the following shortcomings:

Type 1 (purely definitory)
Examples: Dictionary of Ecology (HANSON, New York 1962), A Dictionary of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics (LINCOLN, BOXSHALL & CLARK, Cambridge 1987/1998), Wörterbuch der Ökologie (SCHAEFER, Stuttgart 1992).


Type 2 (explanatory)
Examples: Handbook of Contemporary Developments in World Ecology (KORMONDY & MCCORMICK 1981), Dictionnaires des Sciences de lõEnvironnement (PARENT, Paris 1991), Handbuch zur Ökologie (KUTTLER, Berlin 1993), The Encyclopedia of Ecology and Environmental Management (CALOW, Oxford 1998).

The works listed above tend to be concise and provide unambiguous definitions hardly mentioning the name of the person who coined the term. As there is in fact a multitude of existing meanings of each term, the postulate of being unambiguous in each particular dictionary instead lead to more confusion.
The innovative character of the proposed dictionary is to allow for a quick access to the (sometimes multitude) conceptual contents of the term and in addition provide in depth-information about their social and historical context. The HOEK is conceptualized both for the use within the scientific realm of biology and other disciplines, as well as for a more extended interested public, in particular for the large number of users of ecological knowledge in the fields of environmental protection, conservation, agriculture, forestry, etc.
The most important concepts of ecology shall be described, the various views and their appearance within different currents of scholarly theorizing shall be discussed and also, how the meaning of terms and concepts have changed over time. This project calls for a historically and philosophically informed approach. In this fashion the editors will follow a long-standing lexical tradition in philosophy and history, reflected in dictionaries such as the Historisches Wšrterbuch der Philosophie (RITTER), and the Dictionary of the History of Ideas (WIENER). This tradition has been successful and has a high reputation within the respective communities of scholars.


2. Aim of the handbook

The intention of the handbook is to clarify the historical and actual meanings and uses of ecological terms. This implies to provide information about the originally intended conceptual meaning of ecological terms and about their specific historical meanings are fundamental for decisions about the correctness of understanding and the uses of these terms. We do not intend to establish a conceptual historism or a normative fixation of meaning, nor to suggest specific trajectories for the definition of concepts. Instead, awareness of the terminology should be enhanced that is, the terms are intended to connect concepts and factual objects. In this fashion, traditional or recently developed terms are not arbitrarily defined by individuals or by the current scientific community. Rather they carry meanings and denote contents and intentions, which are the result of their generation and their historical use. Thus, an arbitrary use is as inadequate as a dogmatic definition. The appropriateness of concepts must in addition be measured against a methodology which is sound from the perspective of the philosophy of science and against the usefulness of the concepts in empirical practice.


3. Set-up of the handbook and way of procedure

To achieve the description and analysis of concepts described above requires a historical-philosophical approach and at the same time a sound knowledge of the technical basis of ecology and its fields of application. This necessitates an interdisciplinary approach. The project includes reviewing the history of origin and use of the concepts, explanation of the interdependence and functionality within their conceptual and categorial system and contextualizing. Form and content of the project shall both meet demands of primary research and provide a quick guidance in respect to the particular concepts. From the descriptions outlined above it follows that the task of the Handbook of Ecological Concepts can not be to treat a large number of purely technical terms (as e.g. SCHAEFER 1992, LINCOLN ET AL. 1998), but that it can only deal with fundamental terms with theoretical relevance. The number of terms will thus be limited to approximately 80. These shall not be arranged in alphabetical order but in so-called conceptual clusters (e.g. ecological units, interactions), that allow for an overarching structure regarding the content.
The Handbook of Ecological Concepts will be published in series form over a period of a number of years. During this period the newly treated concepts will be documented successively in an index which is published yearly.

All articles will follow a common scheme which comprises 6 parts:

1. The article head always consists of a literal translation of the concept and of the different existing language forms (at least in english, french and german)

2. The sources of the first use of the concept in ecology will be given; description of the ethymology including the pre- and extraecological uses of the term.
3. The main part of the treatment of each keyword is subdivided into severeal subheadings
3.1 Short summary of the whole article;
3.2 main phases of the history of the concept;
3.3 eventually a short sketch of epistemological changes and influences;
4. Detailed explanations of the main elements as described in 3.; related aspects will be treated staying close to the core of the specific concept; cross reference to problems occuring in the usage of the concepts outside of ecology, e.g. in environmental protection and biological conservation.
5. Sources/Literature
6. Comments by other authors on the article

The first five parts will be covered in every article. However, the sixth part lends a flexible openness to the project for while any author will by himself or herself be responsible for the contents of her/his article, an institutional possibility for commenting and thereby supplementing articles by other authors is also provided.
Readers may thus use the handbook both as an extensive and far-reaching source of information about the particular keywords (estimated average length of entries: 20 pages) or they may gain a concise overview in reading parts 1, 2 and 3 which however, will still go far beyond that provided by conventional dictionaries of ecology.

4. Institutional organization

The project leaders will also be the editors of the handbook. The editors will play a pivotal role in the identification of the conceptual clusters and the commission of the articles. A committee of reviewers (editorial board) chosen from various disciplines will guarantee the qualitative standard of the interdisciplinary orientation of the articles. The editors themselves will participate as authors in the project. Every author signs his article with his name and is ultimately responsible for the contents, which can also be contrary to the opinion of the editors (see above).


Editorial Board

Pascal Acot, Paris
Sandra Bell, Durham
Patrick Blandin, Paris
Alexej Ghilarov, Moscow
John Gowdy, Troy, NY
Volker Grimm, Leipzig
Wolfgang Haber, Freising
Yrjö Haila, Tampere
Getrude Hirsch-Hadorn, Zürich
Andrew Jamison, Aalborg
Alan Holland, Lancaster
Chunglin Kwa, Amsterdam
Thomas Potthast, Tübingen
Peter J. Taylor, Boston
Ludwig Trepl, Freising
Gerhard Wiegleb, Cottbus



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Recent Publications

JAX, K. (Ed.)(2010): Ecosystem functioning Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 272 S.

Fisheries and Fish-eating Vertebrates as a Model Case
Series: Environmental Science and Engineering
Subseries: Environmental Science
Klenke, R.A.; Ring, I.; Kranz, A.; Jepsen, N.; Rauschmayer, F.; Henle, K. (Eds.)
2013, XIV, 347 p. 64 illus., 36 in color.

JAX. K. & A. SCHWARZ (2011): Competing terms. Chapter 11,. In: SCHWARZ, A. & K. JAX (eds.): Ecology Revisited: Reflecting on Concepts, Advancing Science. Dordrecht, Springer: 155-159.

SCHWARZ, A. & K. JAX (eds.): Ecology Revisited: Reflecting on Concepts, Advancing Science. Dordrecht, Springer: 444 p.

BIODIVERSITY AND CONSERVATION Volume 20, Number 5, 1057-1072, DOI: 10.1007/s10531-011-0015-2

Effects of species turnover on reserve site selection in a fragmented landscape - Birgit Felinks, Renata Pardini, Marianna Dixo, Klaus Follner, Jean P. Metzger und Klaus Henle

BRECKLING, B., PE'ER, G. & Y.G. MATSINOS (2011). Cellular Automata in Ecological Modelling. In: JOPP, F., REUTER, H., BRECKLING, B. (Eds.): Modelling Complex Ecological Dynamics.  Springer: 105-117.

BRECKLING, B., PE'ER, G. & Y.G. MATSINOS (2011). Cellular Automata in Ecological Modelling. In: JOPP, F., REUTER, H., BRECKLING, B. (Eds.): Modelling Complex Ecological Dynamics. Springer: 105-117.

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