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Fundamental Processes in EcologyAn earth systems approach$
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David M Wilkinson

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780198568469

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198568469.001.0001

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Historical contingency and the development of planetary ecosystems

Historical contingency and the development of planetary ecosystems

(p.124) 10. Historical contingency and the development of planetary ecosystems
Fundamental Processes in Ecology

David M. Wilkinson

Oxford University Press

The ecology of a planet is influenced by historical processes. At any stage in its development, the current conditions of life on a planet form the starting point from which new conditions develop. This means that over time, an ever increasing number of historical accidents will be incorporated into the system and so the role of past history will become increasingly important. This happens across a range of scales, from the chance long distance dispersal of seeds, to the survival of mass extinction events. Gould's interpretation of the Burgess Shale is discussed as a well-known example of the potential importance of historical contingency. The idea of historical contingency is a simple one and yet it is crucially important in understanding much of ecology. This constrained the possible subsequent trajectories of ecological development on Earth.

Keywords:   historical contingency, Burgess Shale, seed dispersal, mass extinction, historical accidents

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