A User's Guide to Metaphors In Ecology and Evolution.


Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Tercer Circuito s/n de Ciudad Universitaria, Ciudad de México 04510, Mexico. Electronic address: [Email]


Biologists energetically debate terminology in ecology and evolution, but rarely discuss general strategies for resolving these debates. We suggest focusing on metaphors, arguing that, rather than looking down on metaphors, biologists should embrace these terms as the powerful tools they are. Like any powerful tool, metaphors need to be used mindful of their limitations. We give guidance for recognizing metaphors and summarize their major limitations, which are hiding of important biological detail, ongoing vagueness rather than increasing precision, and seeming real rather than figurative. By keeping these limitations in mind, metaphors like adaptive radiation, adaptive landscape, biological invasion, and the ecological niche can be used to their full potential, powering scientific insight without driving research off the rails.



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