Humans Have Broken One of The Natural Power Laws Governing Earth’s Oceans

Just as with planetary or molecular systems, mathematical laws can be found that accurately describe and allow for predictions in chaotically dynamic ecosystems too – at least, if we zoom out enough.

But as humans are now having such a destructive impact on the life we share our planet with, we’re throwing even these once natural universalities into disarray.

“Humans have impacted the ocean in a more dramatic fashion than merely capturing fish,” explained marine ecologist Ryan Heneghan from the Queensland University of Technology.

“It seems that we have broken the size spectrum – one of the largest power law distributions known in nature.”

The power law can be used to describe many things in biology, from patterns of cascading neural activity to the foraging journeys of various species. It’s when two quantities, whatever their initial starting point be, change in proportion relative to each other.

In the case of a particular type of power law, first described in a paper led by Raymond W. Sheldon in 1972 and now known as the ‘Sheldon spectrum’, the two quantities are the body size of an organism, scaled in proportion to its abundance. So, the larger they get, there tend to be consistently fewer individuals within a set species size group.