It's long been accepted by biologists that environmental factors cause the diversity-or number-of species to increase before eventually leveling off. Some recent work, however, has suggested that species diversity continues instead of entering into a state of equilibrium.
But new research on lizards in the Caribbean not only supports the original theory that finite space, limited food supplies, and competition for resources all work together to achieve equilibrium; it builds on the theory by extending it over a much longer timespan.
The research was done by Daniel Rabosky of the University of California, Berkeley and Richard Glor of the University of Rochester who studied patterns of species accumulation of lizards over millions of years on the four Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Cuba. Their paper is being published December 21 in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Glor and Rabosky focused on species diversity-the number of distinct species of lizards-not the number of individual lizards.
"Geographic size correlates to diversity," said Glor. "In general, the larger the area, the greater the number of species that can be supported. For example, there are 60 species of Anolis lizards on Cuba, but far fewer species on the much smaller islands of Jamaica and Puerto Rico." There are only 6 species on Jamaica and 10 on Puerto Rico.
Ecologists Robert MacArthur of Princeton University and E.O. Wilson of Harvard University established the theory of island biogeography in the 1960s to explain the diversity and richness of species in restricted habitats, as well as the limits on the growth in number of species.