SSE Professor NI Wei-Ming Wins ESA Outstanding Ecological Theory Paper Award
CUHK-Shenzhen SSE Presidential Chair Professor NI, Wei-Ming, recently received the Outstanding Ecological Theory Paper Award by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) with his paper titled Carrying Capacity on A Heterogeneous Environment with Habitat Connectivity.
The Ecological Society of America is the country's biggest professional organization of ecological scientists founded in 1915, boasting over 10,000 members around the world. The Outstanding Ecological Theory Paper Award (one per year) is one of the organization's annual awards, recognizing academic achievements that make outstanding contributions in ecology.
In 2017, Professor Ni published a paper entitled "Carrying Capacity on A Heterogeneous Environment with Habitat Connectivity " on Ecology Letters as a co-author. The first author of the paper is Dr. ZHANG Bo from the University of Miami. The paper combines mathematical analysis, numerical calculations, and experimental work to explain a fundamental problem 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.
The award-winning paper of Ni mainly describes the mathematical and experimental evidence of two conclusions: populations diffusing in heterogeneous environments reach higher total size than non-diffusing; and homogeneously distributed resources support higher total carrying capacity than heterogeneously distributed resources. The first conclusion, though sounds 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, Professor NI Wei Ming mainly contributed to the mathematical proof model to confirm the correctness of the conclusions. Ni said: "Mathematics is the most rigorous way to understand phenomena or solve problems. It can avoid the misjudgment brought by intuition. As a basic subject, mathematics is widely used in biology, physics, engineering, etc. Through modeling, a basic mathematics concept can often be applied to many fields, which can connect seemingly unrelated phenomena in essence and facilitate a deeper understanding of a phenomenon."