The Loom of Life: Unravelling Ecosystems

Springer Science & Business Media
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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.
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About the author

The author (born in 1965) is a Dutch biologist and science writer with a doctorate from Leiden University. In 2001, he published Frogs, Flies and Dandelions, an Oxford University Press trade book on speciation, which was favourably reviewed in Nature and in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, and translated into French, Dutch and Greek. The author writes news stories and feature articles on ecology and evolution for New Scientist, Natural History, Science, and various national newspapers in Belgium, the Netherlands and Malaysia. From 2000 to 2006, he was an associate professor in the Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation in Malaysian Borneo. Since 2007, he has been director of research at the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden, the Netherlands. He has published about 55 scientific papers on tropical ecology, systematics and evolutionary biology, mostly involving land snails and insects.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Springer Science & Business Media
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Published on
Aug 15, 2008
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Pages
168
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ISBN
9783540680581
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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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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.

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.

*Carrion crows in the Japanese city of Sendai have learned to use passing traffic to crack nuts.

*Lizards in Puerto Rico are evolving feet that better grip surfaces like concrete.

*Europe’s urban blackbirds sing at a higher pitch than their rural cousins, to be heardover the din of traffic.

How is this happening?

Menno Schilthuizen is one of a growing number of “urban ecologists” studying how our manmade environments are accelerating and changing the evolution of the animals and plants around us. In Darwin Comes to Town, he takes us around the world for an up-close look at just how stunningly flexible and swift-moving natural selection can be.

With human populations growing, we’re having an increasing impact on global ecosystems, and nowhere do these impacts overlap as much as they do in cities. The urban environment is about as extreme as it gets, and the wild animals and plants that live side-by-side with us need to adapt to a whole suite of challenging conditions: they must manage in the city’s hotter climate (the “urban heat island”); they need to be able to live either in the semidesert of the tall, rocky, and cavernous structures we call buildings or in the pocket-like oases of city parks (which pose their own dangers, including smog and free-rangingdogs and cats); traffic causes continuous noise, a mist of fine dust particles, and barriers to movement for any animal that cannot fly or burrow; food sources are mainly human-derived. And yet, as Schilthuizen shows, the wildlife sharing these spaces with us is not just surviving, but evolving ways of thriving.

Darwin Comes toTown draws on eye-popping examples of adaptation to share a stunning vision of urban evolution in which humans and wildlife co-exist in a unique harmony. It reveals that evolution can happen far more rapidly than Darwin dreamed, while providing a glimmer of hope that our race toward over population might not take the rest of nature down with us.

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