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Classic Lewis Carroll character inspires new ecological model
Date:7/30/2014

Inspired by the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, collaborators from the University of Illinois and National University of Singapore improved a 35-year-old ecology model to better understand how species evolve over decades to millions of years.

The new model, called a mean field model for competition, incorporates the "Red Queen Effect," an evolutionary hypothesis introduced by Lee Van Valen in the 1970s, which suggests that organisms must constantly increase their fitness (or ability to survive and reproduce) in order to compete with other ever-evolving organisms in an ever-changing environment.

"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

The mean field model assumes that new species have competitive advantages that allow them to multiply, but over time new species with even better competitive advantages will evolve and outcompete current species, like a conveyor belt constantly moving backwards.

The model gets its name from field theory, which describes how fields, or a value in space and time, interact with matter. A field is like a mark on a map indicating wind speeds at various locations to measure the wind's velocity. In this ecological context, the "fields" approximate distributions of species abundances.

Ecologists can use models to predict what happens next and diagnose sick ecosystems, said first author James O'Dwyer, an assistant professor of plant biology at Illinois and member of the Institute for Genomic Biology.

The mean field model has improved a fundamental ecology model, called neutral biodiversity theory, which was introduced by Stephen H
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Contact: Nicholas Vasi
nvasi@illinois.edu
Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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