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June 20, 2003
Disturb in Medium Doses Please
What conditions maximize biological diversity?
The Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis suggests that diversity is highest in ecologies that undergo intermediate levels of disturbances. Intermediate levels in terms of the frequency, scale, intensity and type of disturbances. (figure.
Several years ago, I spent some time in Costa Rica trying to find evidence that would support this hypothesis. I was searching of something extra/different in the ecology that might explain the exceptional diversity found in one of the most species rich areas on Earth.
I found what I was looking for: lianas, tropical vines.
Lianas are the longest living plant in the rainforest. They outlive all rainforest trees several times over and can grow thousands of feet long. Their longevity and length means that lianas are often found linking the canopies of several large trees.
The additional connectedness that lianas bring to the rainforest means that when one tree falls, multiple trees follow, creating medium size gaps that average about 50 meters in diameter throughout the forest. At any one time about 10% of the forest is in this new gap state.
These medium size gaps are unique to rainforests that have lianas. These gaps create open islands with new edges and niches for species to invade and inhabit. In this small, but important way, lianas contribute to maximizing species diversity in tropical rainforests.
| Category: Economic Geography
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