Analysing Niche Construction in a termites’ colony according to a processual perspective
Organização:  CFCUL
Ciências ULisboa, Building C6
14 / 07 / 2023

The need of an alternative version to the substantialist perspective that has permeated the Life Sciences should be considered. Process philosophy can be the alternative, providing a conceptually different worldview, grounded in the idea of process, instead of autonomous, essentialist, and well-defined substances. Accordingly, and  assuming an epistemic strand of process philosophy, based on the idea that the notion of process provides the most appropriate conceptual instrument for understanding the world, ecological interdependencies can provide a strong empirical motivation for a “process turn” in the life sciences.
The observed interdependence in the living world requires that living entities should be studied as relational entities, being influenced by the environment and able to modify it. The Niche Construction Theory, in recognizing the capacity of organisms to modify their own niches, through their metabolism, activities and behaviours, has provided good theoretical and empirical results in the explanation of ecological phenomena and of some evolutionary phenomena. Departing from the working hypothesis of a processual philosophy in ecology, through the Niche Construction Theory, it should be explored the possibility of integrating ecology and evolutionary biology, thus advocating that the living world is better understood as an entanglement of ecological and evolutionary processes, such as Niche Construction and Natural Selection.
An example concerning the extended physiology of colonies of mound-building termites can illustrate the Niche Construction Theory in a processual perspective. The regulation of the mound’s atmosphere, through the termites’ ecosystem engineering, exemplifies the continuous construction of a dynamic adaptive structure, which challenges some assumptions of substantialist philosophy. Instead of being characterized by the discrete individuality, separateness and passivity of the termites, the continuous homeostatic effort of the termites should be understood, in an epistemic processual stance, by the persistence of their activity, which requires prioritizing wholeness, dynamicity and interactive relatedness.

| |