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Nature. 2000 Aug 3;406(6795):508-12.

Diversity peaks at intermediate productivity in a laboratory microcosm.

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Department of Biology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


The species diversity of natural communities is often strongly related to their productivity. The pattern of this relationship seems to vary: diversity is known to increase monotonically with productivity, to decrease monotonically with productivity, and to be unimodally related to productivity, with maximum diversity occurring at intermediate levels of productivity. The mechanism underlying these patterns remains obscure, although many possibilities have been suggested. Here we outline a simple mechanism--involving selection in a heterogeneous environment--to explain these patterns, and test it using laboratory cultures of the bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens. We grew diverse cultures over a wide range of nutrient concentrations, and found a strongly unimodal relationship between diversity and productivity in heterogeneous, but not in homogeneous, environments. Our result provides experimental evidence that the unimodal relationship often observed in natural communities can be caused by selection for specialized types in a heterogeneous environment.

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