If you pit a pair of gladiators, one strong and one weak, against each other 10 times the outcome will likely be the same every time: the stronger competitor will defeat the weak. But if you add into the field additional competitors of varying strength levels, even the weakest competitors might be able to survive — if only because they’re able to find a quiet corner to hide.
The same is true in the natural world, where in some ecosystems species compete with others for the space to survive and reproduce, according to a long-held scientific theory.
In a new study Yale researchers illustrate that, in the case of fungal communities, maintaining a diverse collection of species indeed not only safeguards weaker species but also protects the genetic diversity of the larger community.
Or, as the researchers suggest, biodiversity begets biodiversity. Understanding this phenomenon, they say, will help in efforts to protect some of the world’s most threatened ecosystems, including coral reefs.
“The most competitive species will surely overcome most other species,” said Dan Maynard
, a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and lead author of the study. “But if there is an abundance of other species in the community, they will likely run into a group of others that it can’t defeat entirely, resulting in deadlocks or draws. And in the space weaker species will be able to survive, scattered across the landscape.”
The study is published today in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution