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I thought you would be interested in this article from environment: YALE magazine, the Journal of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.
By Adam Aston
What does a court full of towering collegiate basketball players have in common with a forest full of vertiginous trees?
For legions of basketball fans, the answer may not go beyond height. But for ecologists who study species dynamics, the answer promises to alter our understanding of the success of species. It could also help better guide how conservation is practiced in an era of fast-multiplying extinctions.
In a study published on March 9 in PLoS ONE, a team of four ecologists at F&ES outlined a connection between basketball and ecology that is, at first glance, deceptively simple. They concluded that the pattern of wins and losses by basketball teams is essentially identical to how species flourish or fail in nature.
Straightforward as these similar distribution patterns may seem, the findings bring into question a landmark theory of species dynamics known as the unified neutral theory of biodiversity.
Developed in recent decades, neutral theory offers ecologists a tantalizingly powerful tool. As a statistical approach, it suggests that for any species—from trees to fish to microbes—patterns of diversity can be modeled solely on the basis of random fluctuations in births, deaths and new arrivals of species rather than on particular traits.
For many ecologists, the implications are jarring. By this reasoning, competitive aspects—whether drought tolerance in trees or poisonous glands in frogs—have little to do with a species’ long-term success relative to its competitors.
As a test of neutral theory, however, the basketball…
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