Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rock-Paper-Scissors Tournaments Explain Ecological Diversity

Directly relevant to our discussion of ecological diversity, is this hot-off-the-press research co-authored by UCSB ecologist Jonathon Levine.

The mystery of biodiversity –– how thousands of similar species can coexist in a single ecosystem might best be understood as the result of a massive rock-paper-scissors tournament, a new study has revealed.

From the UCSB pub, "Coastlines":

According to classical ecology, when two species compete for the same resource, eventually the more successful species will win out while the other will go extinct. But that rule cannot explain systems such as the Amazon, where thousands of tree species occupy similar ecological niches.

The childhood game of rock-paper-scissors provides one solution to this puzzle, report researchers at UC Santa Barbara and the University of Chicago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A mathematical model designed around the game's dynamics produced the potential for limitless biodiversity, and suggested some surprising new ecological rules. Read the article here.

The link to the original source, published in PNAS is here.

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