Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Maths model helps to unravel relationship between nutrients and biodiversity

11.09.2008
The level of nutrients in soil determines how many different kinds of plants and trees can thrive in an ecosystem, according to new research published by biologists and mathematicians yesterday (10 September) in Nature.

For the first time ever mathematicians have modelled all the different possible relationships between nutrients and biodiversity in lab-based experimental ecosystems. They found that although nutrient availability definitely has an impact on biodiversity, the precise relationship between the two depends on which species are present in the ecosystem. This means that in some cases low levels of nutrients can lead to high levels of biodiversity.

The new study involved biologists from the University of California Santa Cruz running a lab experiment to find out how different levels of nutrients affected how many species evolved in an ecosystem. Mathematicians from Imperial College London and the University of Bath then devised a model to show how far the results could be applied to real world scenarios.

The experiments set up by the biologists in the USA consisted of mini ecosystems full of E. coli bacteria and a parasite that lives on the E. coli. These simple communities of hosts and pathogens represent complex ecosystems in the real world, like forests, in which hosts such as trees live and evolve alongside pathogens such as fungi, bacteria and viruses.

The overall aim of the study was to shed new light on the mystery of why some ecosystems such as tropical rainforests are teeming with thousands of different plant species, whereas others, like the pine forests of northern Europe, support significantly fewer types of plant life. However, investigating this phenomenon in the field can be difficult, time consuming and results hard to interpret.

Instead, the researchers used the series of mini-ecosystems in the lab, which consisted of test tubes containing E. coli bacteria, a sugary Lucozade-like liquid for the E.coli to eat, and a parasite that lives on the E. coli.

To mimic different environments, the scientists varied the amount of sugar in each different ‘ecosystem’, and then recorded how many new strains of bacteria and parasite evolved in the sugary broth over the course of 150 generations, which took 17 days.

Their results showed that as the levels of sugar in the ecosystem changed, so did the extent to which new strains evolved. This experiment showed that the highest biodiversity resulted from a low level of nutrients.

Professor Laurence Hurst from the University of Bath’s Department of Biology explains: “The results in the lab showed that varying the level of sugary food in these mini-ecosystems caused the amount of biodiversity in the ecosystems to change. This suggests that the availability of nutrients is one of the factors that affect how many different plant species live in different parts of the world. This has been shown in a lab before, but what we wanted to do was use maths to show how these results, which refer to one kind of bacteria and its parasite, can be applied to other organisms and ecosystems in the real world.”

The team from Bath and Imperial constructed a model to work out whether this inverse relationship would be the same in all ecosystems – whether in the lab or in the real world. They found that although nutrients do affect biodiversity, the precise relationship between the two varies from one ecosystem to the next, depending on what species are present.

Dr Rob Beardmore from Imperial College London’s Department of Mathematics explains: “Although there was a clear link between nutrients and biodiversity in the lab, our mathematical model showed that in some ecosystems you will find that higher levels of nutrients lead to more biodiversity, which is opposite to what our biologist colleagues found in the lab. It turns out that the precise nature of this nutrient-diversity relationship varies from one ecosystem to another, and it depends on the complex interactions between species evolving alongside each other.”

The mathematical model can be used to predict what impact different levels of nutrients will have on biodiversity in any given lab-based ecosystem. The team say their results are very important for scientists who use small scale lab experiments to investigate phenomena in the real world.

The study also provides the first real evidence that a theory known as “geographic mosaic co-evolution hypothesis” holds up in real world ecosystems. Co-author on the paper, Dr Ivana Gudelj from Imperial College, explains: “This complicated-sounding theory basically says that nutrient availability will only have an impact on the diversity of an organism, if the organism is involved in a co-evolutionary arms race with pathogens or competitors, like our E.coli was with its parasite. Our biologist colleagues have shown evidence for this in the lab, and our mathematical model suggests that the theory will also hold up in real world ecosystems too.”

Abigail Smith | alfa
Further information:
http://www.imperial.ac.uk

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New eDNA technology used to quickly assess coral reefs
18.04.2019 | University of Hawaii at Manoa

nachricht New automated biological-sample analysis systems to accelerate disease detection
18.04.2019 | Polytechnique Montréal

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Explosion on Jupiter-sized star 10 times more powerful than ever seen on our sun

A stellar flare 10 times more powerful than anything seen on our sun has burst from an ultracool star almost the same size as Jupiter

  • Coolest and smallest star to produce a superflare found
  • Star is a tenth of the radius of our Sun
  • Researchers led by University of Warwick could only see...

Im Focus: Quantum simulation more stable than expected

A localization phenomenon boosts the accuracy of solving quantum many-body problems with quantum computers which are otherwise challenging for conventional computers. This brings such digital quantum simulation within reach on quantum devices available today.

Quantum computers promise to solve certain computational problems exponentially faster than any classical machine. “A particularly promising application is the...

Im Focus: Largest, fastest array of microscopic 'traffic cops' for optical communications

The technology could revolutionize how information travels through data centers and artificial intelligence networks

Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have built a new photonic switch that can control the direction of light passing through optical fibers...

Im Focus: A long-distance relationship in femtoseconds

Physicists observe how electron-hole pairs drift apart at ultrafast speed, but still remain strongly bound.

Modern electronics relies on ultrafast charge motion on ever shorter length scales. Physicists from Regensburg and Gothenburg have now succeeded in resolving a...

Im Focus: Researchers 3D print metamaterials with novel optical properties

Engineers create novel optical devices, including a moth eye-inspired omnidirectional microwave antenna

A team of engineers at Tufts University has developed a series of 3D printed metamaterials with unique microwave or optical properties that go beyond what is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

Fraunhofer FHR at the IEEE Radar Conference 2019 in Boston, USA

09.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

New automated biological-sample analysis systems to accelerate disease detection

18.04.2019 | Life Sciences

Explosion on Jupiter-sized star 10 times more powerful than ever seen on our sun

18.04.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

New eDNA technology used to quickly assess coral reefs

18.04.2019 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>