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Explaining How Ecosystems Cram in So Many Species

Explaining How Ecosystems Cram in So Many Species

A longstanding puzzle among biologists—how some ecosystems can cram in more species than expected, given the resources available—may be answered by a new model developed by The University of Texas at Austin's Thibaud Taillefumier, an assistant professor in mathematics and neuroscience, and Princeton University colleagues Anna Posfai and Ned Wingreen.

Tetrastrum glabrum, image credited to the Environmental Protection Agency.

As noted in a "Flash Physics" synopsis for Physicsworld.com:

[M]ost ecosystems support many more species than expected. Life on Earth is remarkable in its diversity, with more than 300 tree species co-existing in a hectare of tropical rainforest and thousands of distinct types of microbes co-existing in a gram of soil. This diversity has puzzled biologists because simple resource-competition models suggest that the number of species in an ecosystem cannot exceed the number of distinct resources in that environment.

The new model better mimics diversity in species by adding two features to the classic resource-competition model. First, the model allows that organisms—for example microscopic organisms like the marine phytoplankton cited by the authors—shape their environment. Second, it limits all species with the same trade-off in metabolic ability.

The new research is published in Physical Review Letters.

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Sunday, 26 September 2021

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