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In nature -- and maybe the corner office -- scientists find that generalists can thrive
Date:1/30/2008

sion of labor. In their design, they relaxed two assumptions, making inefficiency less costly and allowing generalists to make mistakes.

The researchers determined the worth of generalists to small systems by designing mathematical equations and creating a computer program to run the equations with various values for different generalist and specialist behaviors. They carried the computation out to the point at which the system had completely evolved.

Waite and DOrazio realized they were wading into treacherous theoretical waters. The notion of division of labor among humans dates to the Greek philosopher Plato, who argued that societies require specialization to be productive and efficient. Later intellectuals expressed concern that the inflexibility associated with division of labor would destroy the human spirit.

In ecology, the literature is comparatively thin. But theoreticians agree that no perfect mathematical model exists, Waite said. A model is either too broad to provide useful insights for any given system or too specific to apply beyond a single defined system.

We wanted to define a fair model that isnt too biased toward one group or one outcome, DOrazio said.

DOrazio initiated the development of a new model with the hopes of determining what he can expect in his study of sea anemones. He was surprised to find that even using a simple model, he is unable to clarify why these marine animals behave as they do.

The species DOrazio studies are members of a clonal aggregation, meaning they are all genetically identical. But these sea anemones exhibit two distinct types of roles: warriors or reproducers. Warriors tend to congregate on the outer edges of their groups to protect the masses, while within the group, others focus on reproducing.

DOrazio hoped to create a model that would help determine the optimal allocation of these two types of specialists to ensure the groups survival. And yet, even
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Contact: Emily Caldwell
caldwell.151@osu.edu
614-292-8310
Ohio State University
Source:Eurekalert

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