Natural Resources, School of


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Angeler and Fried-Petersen BMC Ecology and Evolution (2024) 24:15


Open access.


Background Superposition, i.e. the ability of a particle (electron, photon) to occur in different states or positions simultaneously, is a hallmark in the subatomic world of quantum mechanics. Although counterintuitive at first sight, the quantum world has potential to inform macro-systems of people and nature. Using time series and spatial analysis of bird, phytoplankton and benthic invertebrate communities, this paper shows that superposition can occur analogously in redundancy analysis (RDA) frequently used by ecologists.

Results We show that within individual ecosystems single species can be associated simultaneously with different orthogonal axes in RDA models, which suggests that they operate in more than one niche spaces. We discuss this counterintuitive result in relation to the statistical and mathematical features of RDA and the recognized limitations with current traditional species concepts based on vegetative morphology.

Conclusion We suggest that such “quantum weirdness” in the models is reconcilable with classical ecosystems logic when the focus of research shifts from morphological species to cryptic species that consist of genetically and ecologically differentiated subpopulations. We support our argument with theoretical discussions of eco-evolutionary interpretations that should become testable once suitable data are available.