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Process or Mechanism?

One often hears the terms “mechanism” and “process” used interchangeably.  But really, what do they mean, what’s the difference, and does it really matter?  Giving these terms strict definitions is key to nailing down the conceptual framework of your research.  We often observe an interesting pattern, and wonder what factors underly that pattern.  A process is a selection pressure, or an ultimate factor that explains why that pattern has evolved.  A mechanism details how a process creates the observed pattern.  This framework doesn’t work for all questions, but it’s often useful in studies of ecology, behavior, and morphology.

Really think about the conceptual framework of your research questions!

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