A new study calls into question the evolutionary stability of an ecological explanation of biodiversity.
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, brings together evolutionary theory and ecology to explore one of the big questions in ecology: How is biodiversity developed and maintained?
“This is a fundamental question if we want to protect biodiversity—what exactly do we need to protect?” says International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) Evolution and Ecology Program Director Ulf Dieckmann, who led the study together with Florian Hartig from the University of Freiburg, collaborating with colleagues from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig and the French National Center for Scientific Research in Grenoble.
In introductory biology courses, students learn that two species cannot occupy the same niche, and that the world’s biodiversity is thus closely related to the number of niches that exist. But in fact, in the real world this is often not true—it appears that organisms can and do occupy the same niche, meaning that they feed on the same resource, in the same place, at the same time.
“For example,” says Dieckmann, “herring and sprat in the Baltic Sea occupy very similar ecological niches, feeding on the same kinds of plankton. How such species can robustly co-exist is a key question for modern ecology.”
One theory, known as Relative Nonlinearity of Competition (RNC), suggests that such species can co-exist because they react differently to fluctuations in resources or other limiting factors—such as algal blooms for fish, or rainfall variations for mosquitoes—causing changes in the environment that temporarily benefit the other species. This leads to a dynamic relationship in which each species temporarily benefits from the other’s influence on the environment, holding the two in balance.
“The idea has held up well in theory, but it’s difficult to test in practice,” says Dieckmann. So he and his colleagues decided to test RNC from another perspective, using three standard evolutionary models. “We wanted to find out what happens to the RNC mechanism when we allow the species to adapt.”
Their results show that RNC is typically not stable if one considers evolution: in all three models, the species differences that supported their coexistence disappear through adaptation. This means that, evolutionarily, the two coexisting species are outcompeted and replaced by a single species. Dieckmann says, “We thus suggest that the potential of this mechanism for explaining the origin and maintenance of biodiversity might have been overestimated in the literature.”
The scientists conclude that further research will be needed to understand what other mechanisms support biodiversity.
Dieckmann says that the study points to the importance of interdisciplinary research, such as that conducted at IIASA. “Because evolution and ecology research are most often done in isolation, nobody had yet thought to ask whether this mechanism was evolutionarily stable.”
Hartig F, Münkemüller T, Johst K, Dieckmann U. 2014. On the sympatric evolution and evolutionary stability of coexistence by relative nonlinearity of competition. PLOS ONE. http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0094454
For more information contact:
Evolution and Ecology
+43(0) 2236 807 386
IIASA Press Office
Tel: +43 2236 807 316
Mob: +43 676 83 807 316
IIASA is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological, and social change that we face in the twenty-first century. Our findings provide valuable options to policy makers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by scientific institutions in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Oceania, and Europe. www.iiasa.ac.at
Katherine Leitzell | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
24.10.2016 | Life Sciences
24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy