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friday :: july 9, 2004
diversity: there’s more than one way of doing things

In finding an answer to "perhaps the greatest unsolved ecological riddle," evolutionists propose that diversity is a testament to there being more than one way to make a living.

The riddle: Why are some habitats loaded with many more species than others? The answer: Nature and evolution respect that there's more than one way of doing things.

"What we've learned," said Michigan State University scientist Charles Ofria, "is that if there isn't just one way to succeed, you'll see diversity."

An interdisciplinary team of scientists at MSU, the California Institute of Technology and Keck Graduate Institute, with the help of powerful computers, has used a kind of artificial life, or ALife, to gain insight into questions of evolution.

Up to a point, organisms that are overachievers at what they do to survive – consume resources – will find there’s a ceiling to their good performance. Once they run low on resources, their ability to dominate loses steam and other hard-working organisms have a chance to get a foothold in the habitat.

"We show why more than one species can exist in a place," Ofria said. "We've found that in a place where resources are finite, there are limiting effects of productivity."

The Alife program, called Avida, is basically an artificial petri dish in which organisms not only reproduce, but also perform mathematical calculations to obtain rewards. Rather than sugar, their reward is more computer time that they can use for making copies of themselves. The digital organisms come in different 'species' – identifiable by the mathematical functions they perform.

Avida randomly adds mutations to the copies, thus spurring natural selection and evolution. The research team watches how the bugs adapt and evolve in different environments inside their artificial world.

Avida is the biologist's souped-up race car. To watch the evolution of most living organisms would require thousands of years – without blinking. The digital bugs evolve at lightning speed, and they leave tracks for scientists to study. >from *Digital evolution reveals the many ways to get to diversity* . July 2, 2004

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avida bugs in an artificial petri dish

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