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The Minimum Environmental Perturbation Principle: A New Perspective on Niche Theory

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General Reference
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Robert Marsland III
Wenping Cui
Pankaj Mehta
The Minimum Environmental Perturbation Principle: A New Perspective on Niche Theory


Contemporary niche theory is a powerful conceptual framework for understanding how organisms interact with each other and with their shared environment. Here we show that a large segment of niche theory is equivalent to a Minimum Environmental Perturbation Principle (MEPP): ecosystems self-organize into a state that minimizes the impact of organisms on their environment. Different choices of environmental dynamics naturally give rise to distinct dissimilarity measures for quantifying environmental impact. The MEPP allows for the analysis of ecosystems with large numbers of species and environmental factors and provides a new avenue for analyzing ecological invasions. The MEPP also rigorously connects ecological bistability with the existence of multiple minima in a statistical-physics inspired landscapes. We show that the presence of environmental feedbacks where organisms can produce new resources in addition to depleting them violates the global MEPP. However, even in the presence of such feedbacks, a weaker, local version of the MEPP still applies in a limited region of resource space.


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  • arxiv: 1901.09673

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