Gaia's handmaidens: The Orlog model for conservation biology

  • Bowen B
  • Roman J
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Abstract

The Gaia hypothesis, which proposes that Earth's biota and material environment form a self-regulating system, has been influential in conservation biology, but it has not translated into specific guidelines. Proponents of phylogenetics and ecology often claim primacy over the foundations of conservation biology, a debate that has deep roots in philosophy and science. A more recent claim is that conservation efforts should protect evolutionary processes that will allow diversification. Phylogenetics, ecology, and evolution all have legitimate roles in conservation, when viewed in a temporal perspective. Phylogenetic studies identify the bioheritage of past species radiations, ecology preserves the life-support systems for these lineages in the present, and evolutionary processes allow adaptation of these lineages to novel challenges in the future. The concept of temporal domains in conservation (past, present, future) has an appropriate metaphor in the Norse worldview known as the Orlog. In this body of mythology, three sisters tend the tree of life and fend off a dragon gnawing at the roots. The names of these sisters, Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld, translate to Past, Present, and Future. In Viking mythology, the threads of life cannot persist without the cooperation of these sisters. In the science of conservation biology, they represent the handmaidens of Gaia-three scientific disciplines that can succeed only with a spirit of familial cooperation.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Bioheritage
  • Ecology
  • Evolution
  • Marine protected areas
  • Phylogenetics

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