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Bottled Understanding: the role of lab-work in ecologyEcologists often combine mathematical models and observational data to identify trophic interactions in natural systems. But many are also lab scientists: constructing microcosm or ‘bottle’ experiments, physically realizing the idealized circumstances described in mathematical models. What vindicates such ecological experiments? I argue that ‘extrapolationism’, the view that ecological lab work is valuable because it generates truths about natural systems, is an insufficient defence of the practice. Instead, bottle experiments primarily generate ‘understanding’ of both ecological dynamics and empirical tools.
University of Cambridge