Umwelt Collapse: The Loss of Umwelt-Ecosystem Integration

Biosemiotics 16 (3):479-487 (2023)
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Abstract

Jakob von Uexküll’s umwelt theory opens new perspectives for understanding animal extinction. The umwelt is interpreted here as a sum of structural correspondences between an animal’s subjective experience, ecosystem, physiology, and behaviour. The global environmental crisis disturbs these meaning-connections. From the umwelt perspective, we may describe extinction as umwelt collapse: The disintegration of an animal’s umwelt resulting from the cumulative errors in semiotic processes that mediate an organism and ecosystem. The loss of umwelt-ecosystem integration disturbs “ecological memory,” which provides the ecosystem with adaptive modelling and self-design capacities. Making a distinction between core and mediated umwelts, and describing different types of umwelt collapse, are suitable methods for more detailed analysis. The concept of umwelt collapse enables the reinterpretation of extinction, from an internal perspective, as a semiotic breakdown. Such an approach may help us map scenarios of animal extinction, and may lead to successful compensation strategies in adapting to environmental change.

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