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Biodiversity has both fascinated and puzzled biologists(1). In aquatic ecosystems, the biodiversity puzzle is particularly troublesome, and known as the 'paradox of the plankton'(2). Competition theory predicts that, at equilibrium, the number of coexisting species cannot exceed the number of limiting resources(3-6). For phytoplankton, only a few resources are potentially limiting: nitrogen, phosphorus, silicon, iron, light, inorganic carbon, and sometimes a few trace metals or vitamins. However, in natural waters dozens of phytoplankton species coexist(2). Here we offer a solution to the plankton paradox. First, we show that resource competition models(6-10) can generate oscillations and chaos when species compete for three or more resources. Second we show that these oscillations and chaotic fluctuations in species abundances allow the coexistence of many species on a handful of resources. This model of planktonic biodiversity may be broadly applicable to the biodiversity of many ecosystems. [KEYWORDS: Limited growth; competition; phytoplankton; communities limitation; hypothesis]
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-410
Issue number6760
StatePublished - 1999

ID: 103916