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Copyright © 2004 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.

The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Davic, R. D. 2004. Epistemology, Culture, and Keystone Species. Ecology and Society 9(3): r1. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss3/resp1/

Response, part of Special Feature on Traditional Knowledge in Social-Ecological Systems

Epistemology, Culture, and Keystone Species

Robert D. Davic

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency

Published: August 19, 2004

Call me a polemic thorn if you will, but I find that the concept of the ‘cultural keystone species’ of Garibaldi and Turner (2004) continues a decades long misuse of the original keystone species metaphor of Robert Paine, as I have argued previously in this journal (Davic 2000, 2002, 2003). Knowledge that various species of plants and animals have cultural importance to humans is most likely as old as human society itself, but it does not follow that cultural importance confers keystone species status as the metaphor was articulated by Robert Paine. Culturally important species already have their own catchy metaphor—the concept of the ‘flagship species’ (see online link: http://www.rarespecies.org/flagship.htm from the Rare Species Conservation Foundation).

Ecologists are often loath to attach operational definitions to concepts. Definitions should not be viewed as a human convenience, they are the logical final step in concept formation (Peikoff 1991). Because definitions also are contextual, when a definition is contextually revised, the new definition must not contradict the old—the metaphysical facts previously identified in the original concept are to be maintained (Peikoff 1991). The proposed “cultural keystone species” concept of Garibaldi and Turner (2004) fails this epistemological imperative because it equates the essential variable of keystone species in relation to the presence or absence of humans, rather than trophic interactions in ecosystems and regulation of species diversity (see review of Davic 2003).


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Davic, R. D. 2000. Ecological dominants vs. keystone species: a call for reason. Conservation Ecology 4(1):r2. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol4/iss1/resp2.

Davic, R. D. 2002. Herbivores as keystone predators. Conservation Ecology 6(2):r8. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol6/iss2/resp8.

Davic, R. D. 2003. Linking keystone species and functional groups: a new operational definition of the keystone species concept. Conservation Ecology 7(1):r11. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/resp11.

Garibaldi, A and N. Turner. 2004. Cultural keystone species: implications for ecological conservation and restoration. Ecology and Society 9(3):1. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss3/art1.

Peikoff, L. 1991. Objectivism: the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Penguin Books, New York, New York, USA.

Address of Correspondent:
Robert D. Davic
Northeast District Office
2110 East Aurora Road
Twinsburg, Ohio 44087-1969
Phone: (330) 963-1132

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