Thursday, May 15, 2008

Weeds adapt faster than some companies

I've been using the analogy between forests and the internet to develop policy-making principles: see eg my short essay Internet Forestry: A principles approach to governance which is part of the the Publius Project over at the Berkman Center.

One of the questions is whether the very rapid change of the internet doesn't doesn't invalidate the metaphor; biological systems seem to evolve more slowly, at least at the scale of plants and animals. I don't think it does, since the underlying dynamics are the same: both are complex, adaptive, human-managed systems. However, some recent research shows that plants can adapt very rapidly as well.

ScienceNOW magazine reported on 3 March 2008 (Elizabeth Quill, How Weeds Take to Cities, subscription required) that a Mediterranean weed adjusted its reproductive strategy to deal with the challenge of city living in less than 12 years. Population ecologist Pierre-Olivier Cheptou and colleagues found that the plant Crepis sancta adjusted the mix of heavy vs. light seeds very rapidly after sidewalks were built around them. They produced more heavy seeds, which tend to fall on the small grassy patch around the plant, and fewer light one which would waft away and fall on concrete.

Some companies have taken longer than that to adapt to the internet...

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