Environmental complexity promotes biodiversity

Sep 17, 2013

A new study published in the journal American Naturalist helps explain how spatial variation in natural environments helps spur evolution and give rise to biodiversity.

The study, led by McGill University Ben Haller in collaboration with IIASA Evolution and Ecology Program Leader Ulf Dieckmann and IIASA researcher Rupert Mazzucco, suggests that a varied environment spurs the evolution of new species and promotes by creating places of refuge—"refugia"—for new organisms to evolve.

The model represents asexual organisms that reproduce like plants. To investigate how environmental variation affects evolution, Haller modeled an environment with complex . "We wanted to look at more realistic environments, with more random variation in environmental conditions from place to place," says Haller. While simpler than a real-world environment, the resultant model provides a much more realistic basis for studying biodiversity formation than has been possible before.

In addition to the new "refugium effect," the study shows that too much variation can end up being detrimental for biodiversity. "It's a little like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears," says Haller. "For promoting biodiversity, you can have too little variation, or too much variation, or the variation can be just right."

The study also shows that the scale of landscape variation, in comparison with a species' dispersal distance, changes how much biodiversity can emerge.

The new work provides a better basis for understanding how biodiversity evolves. While many people laud the idea of preserving biodiversity, says Haller, much remains unknown about what an environment needs in order to maintain or produce biodiversity. "It's very hard to conserve something that you don't even understand," says Haller.

Haller started the work as part of his participation in IIASA's Young Scientists Summer Program, working with Dieckmann and Mazzucco.

Explore further: Helping sweet cherries survive the long haul

More information: B.C. Haller, R. Mazzucco, U. Dieckmann. (2013). Evolutionary branching in complex landscapes. American Naturalist 182(4), E127–E141. DOI: 10.1086/671907

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Evolutionary changes could aid fisheries

Jul 18, 2013

Evolutionary changes induced by fisheries may benefit the fishers, according to a new study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But if fisheries are not well-managed, this potential benefi ...

Artificial reef in Red sea teems with life

Aug 20, 2013

In 2007, an artificial reef designed by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers was placed in the Gulf of Eilat to reduce environmental pressure on the region's natural reef. Now teeming with ...

Recommended for you

Sex-loving, meat-eating reptiles have shorter lives

4 minutes ago

The health risks and benefits of vegetarianism have long been discussed in relation to the human diet, but newly published research reveals that it's definitely of benefit to the reptile population. That, ...

US charges safari owners with illegal rhino hunts

12 hours ago

Two South African men were charged Thursday by the US government with conspiracy to sell illegal rhinoceros hunts to American hunters, money laundering and secretly trafficking in rhino horns.

Helping sweet cherries survive the long haul

17 hours ago

A new study says that cherry producers need to understand new intricacies of the production-harvest-marketing continuum in order to successfully move sweet cherries from growers to end consumers. For example, the Canadian ...

User comments : 0