Perplexed

OK, I'm perplexed. I've read this story three times, and I still can't work out what the big deal is supposed to be:

New Scientist: When co-operation is the key to survival

Forget what you might have heard about "nature, red in tooth and claw". Mother Nature, bless her heart, may be much kinder and gentler than most people give her credit for.

That will come as a surprise to many ecologists, who for decades have tended to focus on the "selfish" ways organisms make life harder for one another, such as when one species preys on another or competes with it for space or food. In contrast, relatively few ecologists have studied the ways in which species - unconsciously, of course - make life easier for their neighbours. These positive interactions have generally been assumed to play relatively unimportant roles in ecosystems.

That assumption is wrong, some now claim. "People weren't really looking at the big picture of why a group of species is found together. Often it's because of the positive effect of some other species," says Andrew Altieri, a marine biologist at Northeastern University's Marine Science Center in Nahant, Massachusetts. These so-called "foundation" species can underpin an entire ecosystem by creating a suitable habitat for all the other species that live there. »

The item goes on on to describe studies which show how a certain species of coastal grass and a certain species of muscle initially colonise pebble beaches in Rhode Island, thereby allowing other species to establish themselves.

But isn't that exactly what we would expect? A couple of founder species manage to establish themselves in a hostile environment, then other species move in to take advantage of the new niches created by the founder species. Isn't that textbox evolutionary selfishness at work?

Or am I missing the point?

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
Buy my book: On the Moor: Science, History and Nature on a Country Walk
…wonderful. Science and history and geography and evolution and culture all tangled up in musings while walking about the moors around Hebden Bridge.”—PZ Myers
Amazon: UK | .COM | etc.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *