Ecology

The Ups and Downs of Island Life

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Science  11 Jul 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5886, pp. 176
DOI: 10.1126/science.321.5886.176a

The equilibrium theory of island biogeography, developed in the 1960s by MacArthur and Wilson, has been the principal reference point for ecologists investigating how the dynamic processes of colonization, speciation, and extinction affect biodiversity in insular habitats. However, the theory has been less successful when applied to longer-term evolution on oceanic islands, where geological dynamics such as erosion come into play. Whittaker et al. have developed a general dynamic model (GDM) that takes account of the humped trend in an oceanic island's carrying capacity over its entire life span. The model generates predictions about the biotic properties (species diversity, rates of speciation and extinction) of oceanic islands that fit snugly with data from oceanic archipelagoes, including the Hawaiian islands and the Galápagos (shown above) among others. By unifying evolutionary and ecological time scales and processes in a single theoretical framework, the GDM adds to the understanding of island biology. — AMS

J. Biogeogr. 35, 977 (2008).

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