Q&A: Randomness reigns in ecology

The environment is not the only key factor in determining which species will populate a given habitat -- random, stochastic processes may also play a significant role, according to a study published online today (May 27) on the Science Express website. Study author linkurl:Jonathan Chase,;http://www.biology.wustl.edu/faculty/chase/opening_page.htm a community ecologist at Washington University in Saint Louis, talked with The Scientist about why randomness is so important to species composition,

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef (an unusual nickname for Jennifer) got her master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses. After four years of diving off the Gulf...

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May 26, 2010
The environment is not the only key factor in determining which species will populate a given habitat -- random, stochastic processes may also play a significant role, according to a study published online today (May 27) on the Science Express website. Study author linkurl:Jonathan Chase,;http://www.biology.wustl.edu/faculty/chase/opening_page.htm a community ecologist at Washington University in Saint Louis, talked with The Scientist about why randomness is so important to species composition, and what the findings mean for conserving and restoring the world's ecosystems. The Scientist: What was your motivation for this experiment?
Students and other collaborators
sampling diversity at each of
Chase's experimental ponds

Image: Jonathan M. Chase
Jonathan Chase: There are environmental factors that create [variations in diversity] -- higher productivity, lower productivity, or disturbed environments and undisturbed environments. Those "deterministic" reasons why species compositions shift from one place to the other [are] kind of what the worldview of much of ecology is...
TS:JC:TS:JC:TS:JC:TS:JC:J.M. Chase, "Stochastic community assembly causes higher biodiversity in more productive environments," Sciencexpress, 10.1126/science.1187820, 2010.



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