Life begets life: The diversity of species on Earth is generating itself | Roberto Cazzolla Gatti


Life begets life: The diversity of species on Earth is generating itself | Roberto Cazzolla Gatti

Roberto Cazzolla Gatti

Life begets life: The diversity of species on Earth is generating itself

RCG / 14 febbraio 2017

A new research hypothesis suggests that biodiversity is autocatalytic


If competition is the main evolutionary driver, why can so many species coexist within the same ecosystem instead to have a few that dominate? This a long and central question in ecology. Many ideas have been suggested in an attempt to explain this evolutionary paradox. Most of them are based on the importance of ecological niches for the maintenance of differentiated against dominated environments.fractal_tree_by_tararoys

A fractal tree, as that hypothesized in the BNDT by Dr. Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, for the differentiation of niches (as growing branches of the tree) biodiversity-related (the more species, the more branches=the more niches)

In 2011, Dr. Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, associate professor in Ecology and Biodiversity at the Tomsk State University (Russia) proposed the “Biodiversity-related Niches Differentiation Theory” (BNDT), arguing that species themselves are the architects of biodiversity, by proportionally increasing the number of potentially available niches in a given ecosystem. Along similar lines, but independently, the idea of viewing economics, biology and ecology as emergent autocatalytic sets (self-sustaining network of mutually “catalytic” entities) was suggested by Dr. Wim Hordjik, researcher at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, Klosterneuburg (Austria) and the famous McArthur Fellowship winner, Prof. Stuart Kauffman from the Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle (USA).

Now, in a paper published in Ecological Modelling (Volume 346, 24 February 2017, Pages 70-76) with the title “Biodiversity is autocatalytic” the three scientist merged their ideas in a new hypothesis to explain why and how a so great amount of species could live together in the same environment. The research paper suggests that one group of species enables the existence of (i.e., creates niches for) other species. This means — the authors say — that “biodiversity can indeed be considered a system of autocatalytic sets, and that this view offers a possible answer to the fundamental question of why so many species can coexist in the same ecosystem”.


The variability among living organisms in terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are a part, have been defined with the term “biodiversity”. Apart from the formal definitions and the different ways to measure it, the central question about biological diversity on Earth is how so many species can coexist within the same ecosystem.

However, the idea that interactions between species are important catalysts of the evolutionary processes that generate the remarkable diversity of life is gaining interest among ecologists. For instance, it has been shown that symbiosis between gall-inducing insects and fungi catalysed both the expansion in resource use (niche expansion) and diversification. Indeed, facilitation (a process that allows the colonization and presence of new species taking advantage of the presence of other ones by expanding the ecosystem hypervolume) plays a major role in species coexistence, strongly increasing the biodiversity of an area. A species emerges from this environment and is an expression, in fact a historically contingent expression, of those interactions. In other words, species are expressed and maintained by a complex interacting ecological network.

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Life begets life: The diversity of species on Earth is generating itself | Roberto Cazzolla Gatti