Skip to main content

Real communities of virtual plants explain biodiversity on just three assumptions.

Hunt, R. and Colasanti, R.L., 2021. Real communities of virtual plants explain biodiversity on just three assumptions. In Silico Plants, 3 (1), diab015.

Full text available as:

diab015.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.


DOI: 10.1093/insilicoplants/diab015


To illuminate mechanisms supporting diversity in plant communities, we construct 2D cellular automata and 'grow' virtual plants in real experiments. The plants are 19 different, fully validated functional types drawn from universal adaptive strategy theory. The scale of approach is far beyond that of even the most ambitious investigations in the physical world. By simulating 496 billion plant-environment interactions, we succeed in creating conditions that sustain high diversity realistically and indefinitely. Our simulations manipulate the levels of, and degree of heterogeneity in the supply of, resources, external disturbances and invading propagules. We fail to reproduce this outcome when we adopt the assumptions of unified neutral theory. The 19 functional types in our experiments respond in complete accordance with universal adaptive strategy theory. We find that spatial heterogeneity is a strong contributor to long-term diversity, but temporal heterogeneity is less so. The strongest support of all comes when an incursion of propagules is simulated. We enter caveats and suggest further directions for working with cellular automata in plant science. We conclude that although (i) the differentiation of plant life into distinct functional types, (ii) the presence of environmental heterogeneity and (iii) the opportunity for invasion by propagules can all individually promote plant biodiversity, all three appear to be necessary simultaneously for its long-term maintenance. Though further, and possibly more complex, sets of processes could additionally be involved, we consider it unlikely that any set of conditions more minimal than those described here would be sufficient to deliver the same outcome.

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:A PowerPoint explanation of the basic principles of C-S-R plant strategy theory and its implementation in the current model is available in the online version of this article, and an executable Python program showing the development of specimen communities is available at
Uncontrolled Keywords:Biomass; cellular automaton; emergent process; environmental heterogeneity; hump-backed model; seed rain; Shannon entropy; universal adaptive strategy theory
Group:Faculty of Science & Technology
ID Code:35700
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:28 Jun 2021 13:28
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 14:28


Downloads per month over past year

More statistics for this item...
Repository Staff Only -