A Theory of Global Biodiversity (MPB-60)

Princeton University Press
Free sample

The number of species found at a given point on the planet varies by orders of magnitude, yet large-scale gradients in biodiversity appear to follow some very general patterns. Little mechanistic theory has been formulated to explain the emergence of observed gradients of biodiversity both on land and in the oceans. Based on a comprehensive empirical synthesis of global patterns of species diversity and their drivers, A Theory of Global Biodiversity develops and applies a new theory that can predict such patterns from few underlying processes.

The authors show that global patterns of biodiversity fall into four consistent categories, according to where species live: on land or in coastal, pelagic, and deep ocean habitats. The fact that most species groups, from bacteria to whales, appear to follow similar biogeographic patterns of richness within these habitats points toward some underlying structuring principles. Based on empirical analyses of environmental correlates across these habitats, the authors combine aspects of neutral, metabolic, and niche theory into one unifying framework. Applying it to model terrestrial and marine realms, the authors demonstrate that a relatively simple theory that incorporates temperature and community size as driving variables is able to explain divergent patterns of species richness at a global scale.

Integrating ecological and evolutionary perspectives, A Theory of Global Biodiversity yields surprising insights into the fundamental mechanisms that shape the distribution of life on our planet.

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About the author

Boris Worm is Killam Professor of Biology at Dalhousie University. Derek P. Tittensor is adjunct professor of biology at Dalhousie University and senior marine biodiversity scientist at the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jun 12, 2018
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Pages
232
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ISBN
9781400890231
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Life Sciences / Biological Diversity
Science / Life Sciences / Ecology
Science / Life Sciences / Evolution
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Understanding the mechanisms driving biological diversity remains a central problem in ecology and evolutionary biology. Traditional explanations assume that differences in selection pressures lead to different adaptations in geographically separated locations. This book takes a different approach and explores adaptive diversification--diversification rooted in ecological interactions and frequency-dependent selection. In any ecosystem, birth and death rates of individuals are affected by interactions with other individuals. What is an advantageous phenotype therefore depends on the phenotype of other individuals, and it may often be best to be ecologically different from the majority phenotype. Such rare-type advantage is a hallmark of frequency-dependent selection and opens the scope for processes of diversification that require ecological contact rather than geographical isolation.

Michael Doebeli investigates adaptive diversification using the mathematical framework of adaptive dynamics. Evolutionary branching is a paradigmatic feature of adaptive dynamics that serves as a basic metaphor for adaptive diversification, and Doebeli explores the scope of evolutionary branching in many different ecological scenarios, including models of coevolution, cooperation, and cultural evolution. He also uses alternative modeling approaches. Stochastic, individual-based models are particularly useful for studying adaptive speciation in sexual populations, and partial differential equation models confirm the pervasiveness of adaptive diversification.


Showing that frequency-dependent interactions are an important driver of biological diversity, Adaptive Diversification provides a comprehensive theoretical treatment of adaptive diversification.

In an age of increasing environmental problems, ecology has had to grow up fast from a discipline dealing with relatively simple interactions between species to one that tries to explain changes in global patterns of diversity and richness. The issues are complex. Every species may seem to have its own unique role, but if that is true, then why are there hundreds of species of plankton in an ecosystem with only a handful of niches? The tropics have a high biodiversity, but does anybody know why? And how can a single introduced tree species wreak havoc in Hawaii’s rainforests, when it is one of thousands of quietly coexisting tree species in its native continent, South America?
The strength of this book is that it will help digest some of these more complex issues in the ecology of biodiversity. It will do this by zooming out from the local scale to the global scale in a number of steps, marrying community ecology with macroecology, and introducing unexpected nuggets of natural history along the way. The reader will notice that, the larger the scale, the more the familiar niche-concept appears to be overshadowed by exotic fields from fractal and complexity theory. However, scientists differ in opinion on the scale at which niches become irrelevant. These differences of opinion, but also the search for unified ecological theories, will form another force by which the story will be carried along to its conclusion. A conclusion which, surprisingly, seeks to find a glimpse of the globe's future in the traces from its past.
A plethora of different theories, models, and concepts make up the field of community ecology. Amid this vast body of work, is it possible to build one general theory of ecological communities? What other scientific areas might serve as a guiding framework? As it turns out, the core focus of community ecology—understanding patterns of diversity and composition of biological variants across space and time—is shared by evolutionary biology and its very coherent conceptual framework, population genetics theory. The Theory of Ecological Communities takes this as a starting point to pull together community ecology's various perspectives into a more unified whole.

Mark Vellend builds a theory of ecological communities based on four overarching processes: selection among species, drift, dispersal, and speciation. These are analogues of the four central processes in population genetics theory—selection within species, drift, gene flow, and mutation—and together they subsume almost all of the many dozens of more specific models built to describe the dynamics of communities of interacting species. The result is a theory that allows the effects of many low-level processes, such as competition, facilitation, predation, disturbance, stress, succession, colonization, and local extinction to be understood as the underpinnings of high-level processes with widely applicable consequences for ecological communities.

Reframing the numerous existing ideas in community ecology, The Theory of Ecological Communities provides a new way for thinking about biological composition and diversity.

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