What UConn Huskies and Crows Have in Common

Mar 14, 2011

A Yale University ecologist has turned to college basketball to explain patterns of biodiversity. WNPR’s Nancy Cohen takes us down the court.

Ecologist Robert Warren is a post-doc at Yale’s environmental school. He says in any natural system you’ll find “a remarkably consistent” pattern:

"No matter what system you're in... jungle, woodland, you get a few very common species and lots of uncommon. And this is really intriguing for ecologists because there are very few patterns that we see repeatedly that are kind of universal.”

Warren wanted to know if the diversity of species in natural systems is just a function of randomness, a common theory among scientists. Or is there something about the species that causes some to be very common? Warren, a self-described college basketball nut, came up with the idea to compare the pattern of wins and losses among college basketball teams with the pattern of dominant species versus rare ones.

"In college basketball we have Duke, Kansas some dominant teams that are perpetually dominant. In the natural world we have blue jays, cardinals, crows that we saw a lot of. And then there’s just a whole lot of species and a whole lot of teams that don’t do as well.”

Warren ranked each species by the number of individuals and he ranked each team by the number of wins. He put that data into a mathematical model and found they were the same.

“Exactly the same pattern. No statistical difference, in fact a beautiful fit.”

Warren says In order to protect nature, scientists need to go back to the woods and find out why certain species are dominant.

"Universal Ecological Patterns in College Basketball Communities"