MIT researchers predicted circumstances of ecosystem instability

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It can be difficult to understand all the elements that influence the behavior of complex ecological ecosystems.

MIT researchers recently demonstrated that the behavior of these ecosystems can be predicted using just two pieces of information: the number of species in the community and the strength with which they interact with each other.

Population dynamics

(Photo: FREDRIK LERNERYD/AFP via Getty Images)


Researchers were able to establish three stages of ecological communities and determine the circumstances necessary for their transition from one state to another by studying bacteria grown in the laboratory, according to ScienceDaily.

These discoveries allowed the researchers to develop a “phase diagram” for ecosystems, similar to the diagrams used by physicists to describe the parameters that govern the transition of water from solid to liquid to gas.

“The amazing and beautiful thing about a phase diagram is that it summarizes a lot of information in a very basic way,” explained Jeff Gore, professor of physics at MIT. “We can draw a line that indicates the loss of stability of a population and the beginning of variations.”

Gore is the lead author of the study, and it was published today in Science.

Jiliang Hu, an MIT graduate student, is the lead author of the paper.

Daniel Amor, former MIT postdoc; Matthieu Barbier, researcher at the Plant Health Institute of the University of Montpellier, France; and Guy Bunin, professor of physics at the Israel Institute of Technology, are among the other authors.

The dynamics of natural ecosystems is a challenge for research because, although scientists can make observations about how species interact with each other, they usually cannot conduct controlled experiments in the environment.

Gore’s lab has focused on using microorganisms, such as bacteria and yeast, to study interspecific interactions to better understand how natural ecosystems work.

His team recently revealed how competitive and cooperative behaviors affect populations, as well as early warning signs of population collapse.

During this time, his lab has moved from looking at one or two species at a time to studying larger scale ecosystems.

As they investigated larger communities, Gore became interested in testing the predictions of some theoretical physicists about the dynamics of large and complex ecosystems.

One such prediction was that ecosystems go through stages of different stability depending on the number of species in the community and the degree of interspecific interaction.

It doesn’t matter if the contact is predatory, competitive or cooperative from this perspective.

Only the intensity of the encounter matters.

To test this hypothesis, the researchers established communities of two to 48 species of bacteria.

The number of species in each community was regulated by the researchers by establishing several synthetic communities with different sets of species.

They may also have enhanced species interactions by increasing food availability, which leads to greater population growth and can also lead to environmental changes such as increased acidification.

Finally, when the number of species or the strength of interactions increased, communities entered the third phase with more extreme population oscillations.

Ecosystems have become unstable, meaning populations have fluctuated over time.

Although some extinctions did occur, these ecosystems had a higher overall percentage of surviving species.

Using this information, the researchers were able to create a phase diagram that shows how ecosystems vary based on just two variables: the number of species and the strength of their interactions.

This is similar to how physicists can describe changes in the behavior of water using only two conditions: temperature and pressure.

Read also : The ancient mangrove ecosystem ‘trapped in time’ in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula

Unstable ecosystems and an uncertain future

Life on Earth is meant to be lived in harmony with the land, according to Population Media Center.

Our lives as humans, as well as our health and well-being, are inextricably linked to the life, health and well-being of the planet and all of its plant and animal species.

Deforestation contributes to climate change and endangers the lives of countless plants and animals.

Forests are home to 70% of the world’s animals and plants, but this area is disappearing every year. Human activity destroys approximately 75,000 square kilometers each year.

The acidity of our seas, the depletion of fish resources and the extinction of marine species are some of the most serious environmental concerns we face due to habitat degradation.

Ocean acidification is one of the most serious problems we have produced.

More carbon dioxide has been released into the atmosphere due to the burning of more fossil fuels and deforestation by humans, which also means that the ocean has absorbed more carbon dioxide.

The ocean absorbs around 30% of the CO2 produced in the atmosphere.

When CO2 is absorbed and converted into carbonic acid, it reduces the habitability of our oceans for organisms. The ability of many aquatic animals to live is compromised by ocean acidification.

Related article: Tadpoles can help maintain the freshwater ecosystem

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