Next events

October 2, 2017, Sahotra Sarkar: What is Biodiversity?

Where: University of Lisbon, Campo Grande, Faculty of Science, Anfiteatro Fundação, C1 Building
When: October 2, 5 pm 

Sahotra Sarkar (University of Texas at Austin, USA Presidency University, Kolkata, India) 

"What is Biodiversity?" 

The concept of biodiversity emerged in the 1980s in the context of concerted attempts to conserve aspects of living variety that were then being put at risk primarily through land use and land cover change. Thus, biodiversity always has had a normative element in its conceptualization and, in this sense, differed from older concepts of ecological diversity. However, defining and measuring biodiversity has been contested territory ever since its introduction with no diminution of these controversies in recent years in spite of several attempts at explication. This paper reviews these controversies and develops a framework that distinguishes constituents and surrogates for biodiversity and discusses how they must be defined and assessed for conservation projects.

October 3-4, 2017, On the Nature of Variation, Lisboa

International Conference

On the nature of variation: random, biased and directional

Anfiteatro da Fundação FCUL, University of Lisbon, 3-4 October 2017

Invited speakers: 

Eva Boon (Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, Holland), Pietro Corsi (University of Oxford, UK and EHESS, Paris, France), Leonore Fleming (Utica College, USA), Gerd Müller (Universität Wien, Austria), Sahotra Sarkar (University of Texas at Austin, USA and Presidency University, Kolkata, India), Arlin Stoltzfus (Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research, NIST, USA).


Past events

May 22, 2016, Dia Internacional da Biodiversidade, Lisboa

Where: Museu Nacional de História Natural e da Ciência 
When: May 22, 2016

10h30-12h00 – A origem da biodiversidade

Atividade na exposição “A Aventura da Terra” sobre a origem da diversidade das formas da vida visível na história da evolução do nosso planeta.

15h00-16h30 – Celebrando a biodiversidade

Visita a reservas das coleções de zoologia do MUHNAC e à exposição na Sala da Baleia para exploração sobre a biodiversidade nativa de Portugal.

June 6, 2016, Che cos’è H. sapiens?, Genova

When: June 6, 2016 4-6 pm
Where: Department of Philosophy, University of Genova

Elena CasettaDavide VecchiChe cos’è H. sapiens?

Epilog seminar (coord. Cristina Amoretti and Marcello Frixione).

Biodiversity is often understood as species diversity. But, mainly because of the so-called "species problem", speaking of species is anything but uncontroversial. In this talk we propose an "empiricist view" on species and we test it on a particular species, ours.
We first sketch the traits of a “minimal consensus” among biologists on the features displayed by all sexual species—to which H. sapiens belongs. Our working hypothesis is that it is the peculiar evolutionary history of the species at issue, its peculiar metapopulation structure and the peculiar mixture and strength of homeostatic processes that can provide an answer to the two questions. We then reconstruct the evolutionary history of our species and identify the putative evolutionary processes that render it cohesive.

June 21, 2016, Biodecon Seminar. First session, Lisboa

When: June 21, 2016 - 3 pm
Where: Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa,Building C8, room 8.2.02

Fabrizio Macagno: The Problem of Definition.

Suggested reading: "Metadialogues and Redefinitions", in F. Macagno, R. Walton, Emotive Language in Argumentation, Cambridge UP, 2014.

 June 30, 2016, Personalized Medicine: semantic ambiguities and ethical quandaries, Lisboa

When: June 30, 2016,11 am
Where: Faculty of Science, University of Lisbon
Silvia Di Marco: Personalized Medicine: semantic ambiguities and ethical quandaries
BioSys PhD programme at BioISI, Faculty of Science, University of Lisbon.

Abstract. Over the last two decades “personalized medicine” (PM) has become a buzzword in the academic and political debates on medicine. Yet, there is no unified definition of what PM actually is or ought to be. Alternative definitions and labels abound. Precision medicine, stratified medicine, individualized medicine, and systems medicine—also known as P4 medicine (predictive, preventive, participatory and personalized)—are just a few examples. This semantic indeterminacy complicates the debate on possibilities, risks and limits of PM. Accordingly, it becomes difficult to foresee and assess its potential impact on healthcare systems and society at large. Yet, this assessment is paramount, because PM raises several ethical and societal issues. In this seminar I review and compare different definitions of PM and present a possible taxonomy of the ethical issues concerning PM (e.g., research, clinical, societal level), paying particular attention to specific problems posed by systems medicine. Drawing an analogy with the problem of the definition of biodiversity, I discuss why it is difficult to define PM and how semantic confusion can hamper the ethical debate.

June 30, 2016, Environmental monitoring in marine and estuarine areas, Ponta Delgada

When: June 30
Where: University of Azores, Ponta Delgada

José Lino Costa: "Environmental monitoring in marine and estuarine areas. Basic principles and some case studies." 

3Bs Annual Seminar: Biodiversity, Biomedicine and Biotechnology.

July 6, 2016, Biodecon Seminar. Joined session with EXSY reading group, Lisboa

When: July 6, 2016, 5 pm
Where: MARE


- Elena Casetta & Silvia Di Marco: "How Biodiversity has been Defined?"

- General discussion

Suggested reading:

Delong, D.C.,1996 Defining Biodiversity. Wildlife Soc Bull 24: 738–749

Sarkar, S., 2002, Defining "Biodiversity". Assessing biodiversity. The Monist 85/1: 131-155.

Ppt: Seminar-5July2016-v2

September 15, 2016, Biodecon Seminar. Third session, Lisboa

When: September 15, 2016 - 4 pm
Where: Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa,Building C8, room 8.2.02


4-5 pm - Team meeting
5-6 pm - Presentation of the first draft of "Defining Biodiversity" by Elena Casetta & Silvia Di Marco, and general discussion.

October 6-7, 2016, International Conference: Biodiversity. Units, Levels, Scales, Lisboa

Download the Abstracts booklet

Venue: MUHNAC, Lisbon, 2016 October 6-7, 2016

Description: When it made its first appearance, the term “biodiversity” was mainly intended to sensitize the scientific community and civil society at large towards the loss of species caused by human activities. In a first approximation then, the term “biodiversity” was intended to refer to species’ variety, while assessing biodiversity mainly consisted in inventorying species, and conserving biodiversity in maintaining the inventory.

But a characterization in terms of mere species variety does not seem to fully capture the multitude of dynamic interactions at different levels from which biodiversity results from. The Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) introduced a more encompassing definition: “‘Biological diversity’ means the variability among living organisms from all sources including inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are a part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.”

In the light of this broader conception, a set of basic questions could be re-proposed: which are the salient units of biodiversity? How do such units interact among them within the same level and with other levels, and how can this interaction give rise to novel diversity? Is it possible to keep together, in an ideally comprehensive account, this enormously complex interplay of units belonging to different levels and describable and evaluable at different temporal and spatial scales? How to bridge epistemologies concerning biodiversity conservation?

These and similar questions will be addressed by philosophers, anthropologists, biologists, and ecologists in the context of this interdisciplinary international conference.


[Notice: the "Conferência Pública" was given by biologist Judite Alves instead of Luís Vicente.

October 7, 2016, First Biodecon Intermediate Meeting, Lisboa

With the presence of: Elena Casetta, Silvia Di Marco, Matthias Kaiser, Fabrizio Macagno, Jorge Marques da Silva, Thomas Reydon, Davide Vecchi.

October 24, 2016, Preformationism vs. Epigeneticism, Torino

When: October 24, 2016, 3-5 pm
Where: University of Torino, Palazzo del Rettorato.

Elena Casetta: "Preformationism vs. Epigeneticism: inspiration and haunting within and outside the contemporary philosophy of biology".


November 23, 2016, Evolution and its three explananda, Torino

When: November 23, 2016 2-4 pm 
Where: Department of Philosophy and Educational Sciences, University of Torino, Palazzo Nuovo (aula 38).
Davide Vecchi – “Evolution and its Three Explananda“.

LABONT Seminar / SOFEE Seminar

A satisfactory theory of evolution should explain at least three striking features of life: adaptedness, diversity and complexity. Darwinism (e.g., Darwin’s evolutionism, the neo-darwinian interpretation of evolution or Modern Synthesis) arguably offers the most successful explanation of adaptedness and diversity available. I shall first review some of the central epistemological features of Darwinian explanations of adaptedness and diversity. I shall then explain why it is sometimes argued that the scope of Darwinism is not limited to “organic evolution” but that it encompasses the evolution of culture. I shall then conclude by pointing at some alleged limits of Darwinism, particularly concerning the explanation of complexity and the emergence of new levels of biological organisation.

December 15, 2016,  Symposium: Is an Extended Synthesis required to properly account for biological diversity?, Lisboa

When: December 15, 2016 3.30-5.30 pm
Where: Fórum Lisboa 

Organizer: Davide Vecchi

Participants: Silvia Di Marco, Jorge Marques da Silva, Elena Casetta, Susana A.M. Varela, Davide Vecchi

Third Lisbon International Conference on Philosophy of Science: Contemporary Issues, Lisbon, December 14-15-16

Description: The Modern Evolutionary Synthesis was undoubtedly a fundamental achievement in the history of biology: by fusing Mendelian genetics and the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection, it promoted the development of evolutionary sciences. Nonetheless, the Modern Synthesis, focusing almost exclusively on genetic inheritance and on changes in gene frequencies, rules out the possibility of extra-genetic inheritance, and puts on the backburner processes that are nevertheless increasingly recognized as playing an important role in evolution, such as niche construction, phenotypic plasticity and symbiogenesis. It is for these reasons that, most recently, a growing number of scholars have called for an extension – or even an overcoming – of the Modern Synthesis (Koonin 2012, Pigliucci & Muller 2010, Laland et al. 2015). In this respect, consider that Mayr – despite defending the view that the Modern Synthesis does not require a revision as a consequence of the spectacular discoveries of molecular biology – conceded that it had limited explanatory resources to fully account for the phenomenon of generation of biodiversity:

«Most of the enormous variation of kinds of organisms has so far been totally ignored by the students of speciation. We have studied the origin of new species in birds, mammals, and certain genera of fishes, lepidopterans, and molluscs, and speciation has been observed to be allopatric (geographical) in most of the studied groups … However, numerous other modes of speciation have also been discovered that are unorthodox in that they differ from allopatric speciation in various ways. Among these other modes are sympatric speciation, speciation by hybridization, by polyploidy and other chromosome rearrangements, by lateral gene transfer, and by symbiogenesis.» (Mayr 2004, p. 47)

In this symposium we would like to provide an interdisciplinary context in which to discuss, from a philosophical and biological perspective, the putative limits of the Modern Synthesis approach as well as the putative benefits of an Extended Synthesis approach to the phenomenon of generation of biodiversity.


Koonin, E. V. (2012). The Logic of Chance. Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press.
Laland, K. et al. (2015). The extended evolutionary synthesis: its structure, assumptions and predictions. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Mayr E. 2004. Happy birthday: 80 years of watching the evolutionary scenery. Science, 305(5680):46-7.
Pigliucci, M. & Müller, G. B. (2010). Evolution – The Extended Synthesis. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

January 11, 2017, La biodiversità: costruzione sociale o oggetto scientifico?, Torino

When: January 11, 2017 5-7 pm
Where: University of Turin, aula H5, Campus Luigi Einaudi - CLE,Torino

Elena Casetta: La biodiversità: costruzione sociale o oggetto scientifico?

LabOnt Seminar

La parola “biodiversità” è stata introdotta negli Stati Uniti nel 1985, con ragioni principalmente politiche. Da un lato, si può considerare “biodiversità” come nient’altro che la composizione linguistica di “diversità biologica”, espressione ampiamente utilizzata in ecologia a partire dagli anni Cinquanta. Dall’altro, si può pensare che ci sia, nella biodiversità, qualcosa di più—o di meno—che nella diversità biologica. In questo intervento vorrei (1) provare a prendere sul serio quest’intuizione, l’idea cioè che “biodiversità” e “diversità biologica” si riferiscano a due cose diverse; (2) mostrare che l’approccio dei servizi ecosistemici può, a differenza di altri framework, rendere conto di entrambe.

January 25, 2017, Biodecon Team Meeting, Lisboa

When: January 25, 2017 11-12 am / 2.30-4.30 pm
Where: Meeting room, CFCUL, University of Lisbon

11-12 am - Team meeting.With the presence of: Judite Alves, Elena Casetta, Lino Costa, Silvia Di Marco, Jorge Marques da Silva, Davide Vecchi.
2.30-4.30 pm - Elena Casetta, Fabrizio Macagno, Silvia Di Marco. Discussion on the ongoing review of the definitions of biodiversity.

 March 2, 2017, Biodecon Seminar: Ecological indicators of environmental change, Lisboa

When: March 2, 2017, h. 2.30 pm
Where: FCUL,8.2.02

Cristina Branquinho: Ecological indicators of environmental change: diagnose, evaluate and anticipate

Elena Casetta: Introduction

March 10, 2017, A Processual Account of Biological Individuality, Exeter

When: March 10, 2017 
Where:Egenis, The Centre for the Study of Life Sciences, University of

10.15 - 11.00 Davide Vecchi (Lisbon) & Isaac Hernández (Toulouse): A Processual Account of Biological
Individuality: The Case of Partnerships

In the Conference “Organisms: Living Systems and Processes” organised by Anne Sophie Meincke (Exeter) & John Dupré (Exeter),9-10 March 2017.

April 24, Challenging the consensus, San Sebastián

When: April 24, 2017 4 pm
Where: IAS Centre for Research on Life, Mind and Society, Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of the Basque Country

Davide Vecchi: Challenging the consensus: intrinsicalism and the minimal genome

The consensus in philosophy of biology is based on the tenet that biological species are individuated only by relational properties (relationalism) and not by intrinsic ones (intrinsicalism). In this article I argue that the supporters of relationalism have not taken into account the possibility that minimal species genomes might exist. A minimal genome is a set of genetic properties that all and only the organisms belonging to a certain organismal lineage share. Hereby I critically analyse some prominent arguments that have been proposed to show intrinsicalism’s fallacy. I aim to show that the empirical evidence and the theoretical considerations in support for these arguments are weak. In particular, I show that gene conservation is a powerful evolutionary force able to preserve minimal genomes. I also consider in what sense the existence of a minimal genome would support intrinsicalism.


April 25, 2017, Biological Individuality, San Sebastián

When: April 25, 2017 11.15 am
Where: IAS Centre for Research on Life, Mind and Society, Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science,
University of the Basque Country 

Davide Vecchi: Biological individuality and the challenge posed by the ubiquity of multi-species partnerships.

There exist at least two traditions approaching the problem of biological individuality differently. On the one hand, an evolutionary tradition. From this perspective, organisms are only one among many kinds of biological individuals, and individuation is an evolutionary process. On the other hand, a physiological tradition. From this perspective, individuation is an ontogenetic process that can be viewed as an act of closure from an ever-changing environment. The problem of either view is that partnerships between organisms belonging to different species are ubiquitous in the biological world. The first tradition is forced either to downplay the frequency of partnerships, or their evolutionary significance. The second tradition is forced to relinquish the autonomy of the partners and admit their reproductive, metabolic, developmental and physiologically openness, ultimately characterising closure more prosaically as a tendency rather than as an essential categorical property of biological systems. We shall propose that the many examples of partnership where the metabolic, reproductive, physiological and developmental limits of the partner entities cannot be precisely drawn are an ideal test case to think about biological individuality in new terms.


April 29, La sesta estinzione di massa? Foligno (Italia)

When: April 29, 3.30 pm
Where: Auditorium San Domenico, Foligno
Elena Casetta: La sesta estinzione di massa? La crisi della biodiversità tra costruzione sociale e dati scientifici

VII Festa Scienza e Filosofia, Foligno, 27-30 Aprile

May 12, 2017, Biodecon Team Meeting, Lisboa

When: May 12, 2.30 pm, 2017
Where: MARE

On the agenda:

1) General update on the activities and first year relatorio;

2) Presentation of the beta version of the biodiversity test;

3) Update on the review of biodiversity definitions.

May 16, 2017, Making sense of the genomic challenge to adaptionism, Lisboa

When: May 16, 2017 11 am - 1 pm
Where: Ecocomp (Ecology and Behaviour discussion group), room 2.1.40, Faculty of Sciences, Campo Grande Campus, University of Lisbon

Davide Vecchi: Making sense of the genomic challenge to adaptationism

Abstract: One crucial challenge to adaptationism stems from recent genomic analyses suggesting that non-adaptive processes such as drift and mutation dominate genome evolution. Does the challenge also affect phenotypic evolution?

 May 20, 2017, Noite dos museus, Lisbon

May 22, 2017, Dia Internacional da Biodiversidade, Lisboa

June 6, 2017, Second Biodecon Intermediate Meeting, Bergen

When: June 6, 2017
Where: University of Bergen

Second BIODECON Intermediate meeting

Silvia Di Marco & Elena Casetta: "Defining biodiversity"

Carina Silva: "Exploring the commonsensical meaning of biodiversity"

Jorge Marques da Silva: "Biodiversity, biotechnology and food security"

Jeanette Tennebekk (UiB): "Different perspectives on valuation of two cultural landscapes in a Norwegian village" 

Paula Ungar: "Walking the lines: mapping contested ecosystems for conservation" 

Chairs: Matthias Kaiser & Jeroen van der Sluijs


June 20-23, 2017, SILFS, Bologna

When: June 20 and June 22, 2017

Where: University of Bologna

June 20, 3 pm: D. Vecchi: DNA: specific difference maker but not developmental determinant

June 22, 2.30 pm: Symposium on the concept of organism, with the participation of E. Casetta


 June 28, Jornadas do DHFC, Lisboa

Where: Universidade de Lisboa, Campo Grande, FCUL, DHFC, Anfiteatro da Fundação

When: June 28

14h30, Carina Silva, "O que é a biodiversidade? Uma perspectiva do público comum"

15h30, Davide Vecchi, "On the centrality of DNA in development and evolution"


July 16-21, 2017, ISHPSSB  Meeting in São Paulo, Brazil

Symposium: Biodiversity patterns and their ecological and evolutionary origin 

Org. and chair of the session: Davide Vecchi
Website & Program


Silvia Di Marco – Eco-evolutionary feedback theory: Bridging the gap between ecological and evolutionary processes 

Elena Casetta & Jorge Marques da Silva – Are species the main units of biodiversity? A lesson from multispecies biofilms 

Davide Vecchi – The instability of the homogeneous and the stability of the heterogeneous as causes of biodiversity