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Tackling the great paradox of biodiversity with game theory

Game theory has many applications, in this case, shedding light on the phenomenon of biodiversity. The initial confusion is how the Earth has such a limited amount of resources yet so many different species that seem to coexist. Early theory suggested that the number of species had to be equal to the number of resource types available in the environment. The theoretical thinking completely clashes with the experimental observation which creates the paradox. Scientists refer to this as the “plankton paradox”, because it is very well illustrated by the fact that oceans have fewer than 10 growth-sustaining resources (light, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, iron, etc.) yet hundreds of plankton species coexist in a stable manner.

In Lisbon, scientists set out to explain the biodiversity paradox using game theory models. They created a theoretical scenario in which the only two species were hawks and doves. Hawks are aggressive and bloodthirsty while doves are calmer and run away from fights. According to game theory, neither the hawks or the doves are purely dominant but coexist. In another model, for each resource, a species had an independent choice between being a hawk or a dove and generated more biodiversity from this, leading to a large number of potential species. Their model suggested that biodiversity increases exponentially with the number of resources as two resources can see four species coexisting, and four resources can sustain nine. Their model contains many experimentally confirmed predictions and the scientists believe that the use of game theory can also help understand extinctions and predict possible future directions of evolution in animals.

This is connected to the fact that we are currently discussing game theory, dominance, and equilibrium in class.



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