SSE Professor NI Wei-Ming Wins ESA Outstanding Ecological Theory Paper Award
CUHK-Shenzhen SSE Presidential Chair Professor NI Wei-Ming has recently received the Outstanding Ecological Theory Paper Award by the Ecological Society of America(ESA) for his paper titled "Carrying Capacity in A Heterogeneous Environment with Habitat Connectivity".
Founded in 1915, the Ecological Society of America is the country’s biggest professional organization of ecological scientists, hosting over 10,000 members worldwide. The Outstanding Ecological Theory Paper Award (one per year) is one of the organization’s annual awards, in recognition of outstanding academic achievements that contribute to the ecology society.
Prof. Ni’s paper, co-authored with Dr. Zhang Bo of the University of Miami, was published on Ecology Letters in 2017. Dr. Zhang is the first author of the paper. “Carrying Capacity in A Heterogeneous Environment with Habitat Connectivity” combines mathematical analysis, numerical calculations, and experimental work to explain a fundamental issue in spatial biology of populations: how spatial heterogeneity of environmental factors and patterns of movement determine the population abundance. Refuting previous theory, the paper finds that the equilibrium population abundance in spatially heterogeneous environments is lower than in homogeneous environments.
Professor NI Wei-Ming received his bachelor's degree from National Taiwan University (Taiwan, China) in 1972. After two years of military service, he started his PhD research at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University and received his degree in 1979. After graduation, he served as Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Professor at the University of Minnesota. He was the Director of the Center for Partial Differential Equations at East China Normal University from 2010 to 2017. Professor Ni's research interest mainly concerns partial differential equations. For the past ten years, he has focused on the mathematical issues in biology. He has published over 100 academic papers, mostly in world-renowned academic journals. He is among the most cited mathematicians in the world.
The award-winning paper of Prof. Ni mainly describes the mathematical and experimental evidences of two conclusions: populations diffusing in heterogeneous environments reach higher total size than if non-diffusing; and homogeneously distributed resources support higher total carrying capacity than heterogeneously distributed resources. The first conclusion, though seemingly counterintuitive, stimulates people to re-examine and define an important basic idea in ecology - "carrying capacity": a "dynamic" process not only dependent on the total amount of resources, but also on the rate of movement of individuals in the population. On the other hand, the second conclusion overturns the past inference based on the logistic equation, and points out the significance of resources and environmental changes on species.
Working with both experimental biologists and theoretical ecologists, Prof. Ni mainly contributed to the project by verifying modeling outcomes through mathematical methods. Prof. Ni said, "Mathematics is the most rigorous way to interpret phenomena and solve problems, often sparing us intuition-caused misjudgment. As a basic science, mathematics is widely used in biology, physics, engineering, etc. Through modeling, a basic mathematical concept can be applied to many fields, connecting seemingly unrelated phenomena and facilitating deeper insight into a given issue."