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Cazzolla Gatti Roberto | Fellow Postdoctoral
2020-01-15 - 2021-01-14 | Research area: Sustainability Research
The Role of Niche Emergence and Diversity Autocatalysis in the Evolution of Biodiversity, Socio-Economic Sustainability, and Developmental Biology

There are few studies and theories that clearly explain why the number of niches is so variable through ecosystems and how can several similar species live in the same environment. In my early work, I showed that the number of niches in an ecosystem depends on the number of species extant in a particular time and that the species themselves allow the enhancement of niches in terms of space and number. I firstly resumed these hypotheses, after some empirical studies, in the Biodiversity-related Niches Differentiation Theory (BNDT). Then I suggested that biodiversity can indeed be considered a system of autocatalytic sets. Successively, I argued that niche partitioning, as a way to coexist, could be a limited means to share the environmental resources and condition during evolutionary time. Therefore, I proposed that niche emergence is what mostly drives ecological diversity.

These research lines constitute the basis for the concept of ecological autocatalytic networks (ecoRAFs), how this can give rise to an expanding process of niche emergence (both in time and space), and how these networks have evolved over time (evoRAFs). This approach might be useful to estimate, with a power-law, the extent of extinction events and the “potential” number of species that could evolve in an ecosystem or in the whole biosphere. I am now exploring the deep implications of these novel ideas on evolutionary patterns and socio-economic theories.

The aim of the current research proposal is to the evaluate and predict the effect of present and future global changes on biological diversity and analyze the implications of niche emergence and biodiversity autocatalysis on evolutionary developmental biology (Evo-Devo) and socio-economic aspects related to sustainability. I will attempt to address both a theoretical and empirical debate trying to provide an answer to three main interdisciplinary questions on the “unprestatability” and predictability of evolution, in terms of i) biodiversity expansion limits and biodiversity loss in the Anthropocene, ii) evolutionary developmental biology, and iii) economic growth.