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International Journal of Ecology
Volume 2010 (2010), Article ID 150606, 13 pages
Research Article

Simulating Species Richness Using Agents with Evolving Niches, with an Example of Galápagos Plants

Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, 1499 Campus Delivery—B234 NESB, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1499, USA

Received 20 May 2010; Revised 24 July 2010; Accepted 28 July 2010

Academic Editor: Bradford Hawkins

Copyright © 2010 Randall B. Boone. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


I sought to evolve plant species richness patterns on 22 Galápagos Islands, Ecuador, as an exploration of the utility of evolutionary computation and an agent-based approach in biogeography research. The simulation was spatially explicit, where agents were plant monocultures defined by three niche dimensions, lava (yes or no), elevation, and slope. Niches were represented as standard normal curves subjected to selection pressure, where neighboring plants bred if their niches overlapped sufficiently, and were considered the same species, otherwise they were different species. Plants that bred produced seeds with mutated niches. Seeds dispersed locally and longer distances, and established if the habitat was appropriate given the seed's niche. From a single species colonizing a random location, hundreds of species evolved to fill the islands. Evolved plant species richness agreed very well with observed plant species richness. I review potential uses of an agent-based representation of evolving niches in biogeography research.