Researchers study connectivity in ecosystems to better understand human health and the environment
An Israeli study recently found evidence of an old theory: In nature, ecosystems consist of either a few species with strong bonds or many species with weak bonds – just like government alliances.
Researchers from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University calculated the level of connectivity of bacterial communities across ecosystems to better understand how to preserve human health and the environment.
For comparison, government coalitions often dissolve when too many parties disagree on too many issues. Even though the alliance seems stable, a small crisis can cause a chain reaction that eventually collapses the system.
The same is true in ecosystems, particularly bacteria, according to the study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution magazine.
In an ecosystem, different species can have negative effects on each other. For example, the cheetah hunts the zebra, and the trees in the forest compete with each other for sunlight.
Conversely, species can positively influence each other, such as when bees pollinate flowers.
In the 1970s, biologist Robert May theorized that an ecosystem could become unstable and collapse if there were too many species. He also proposed that small ecosystems in nature are characterized by stronger bonds, while larger systems have weaker ones.
The latest study, headed by Yogev Yonatan and Guy Amit of Dr Amir Bashan’s research group, demonstrated the first evidence of May’s principle in microbial ecosystems.
According to the researchers, the microbiome is of great importance to health – such as digestion and absorption of nutrients and training of the immune system. Outside the human body, bacteria play an important role in creating the living conditions for larger organisms.