People who love the countryside and open places tend to value biodiversity and rich ecosystems. There is a perception that a high species diversity helps to stabilise ecosystems by buffering the effects of environmental change, and in addition create ecosystems with greater functionality. According to MacDougall et al. (2013), “Biodiversity can stabilize ecological systems by functional complementarity, with different species thriving under different conditions.” However, scientific underpinning has lagged behind tacit knowledge and we are faced with the growth of monocultures in agricultural husbandry and commercial land use. Nevertheless, the situation is changing, and the benefits of biodiversity are being increasingly recognised. Researchers face the problem of complex patterns of human interventions.
If we start with evidence (that diversity is beneficial) and infer that mechanisms exist for promoting diversity, then we will approach the observational data quite differently from Darwin and the Darwinists. We will recognise mechanisms that deliver diversity (e.g. via recombination of DNA during sexual reproduction). We will find that the genome exhibits plasticity, so that many phenotypes can emerge from the same genotype. Scholars today are developing understanding of phenotypic plasticity – a phenomenon that owes nothing to Darwinism. For more on this topic, go here. For case studies, go here and here.
‘Diversity by design’ is a rational and reasonable starting point for the study of ecology. Those who set out with this perspective will find that they travel along a different path from the one taken by Darwin, and it leads to quite different conclusions. This is a Kuhnian paradigm shift. Dominant and recessive genes are the tip of the iceberg! Speciation that is rapid, rather than gradual, is an indication of diversity by design. When we find non-random mutations or mutation hot spots, these are pointers to designed mechanisms. Epigenetics has the potential for expanding our understanding of the ways for diversity to develop. The more diversity by design is probed, the more it presents itself as a viable and interesting research paradigm.
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