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Artificial Life

Fall 1999, Vol. 5, No. 4, Pages 291-318
(doi: 10.1162/106454699568791)
© 2000 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Simulated Evolution of Biochemical Guilds: Reconciling Gaia Theory and Natural Selection
Article PDF (541.08 KB)

Gaia theory, which states that organisms both affect and regulate their environment, poses an interesting problem to Neo-Darwinian evolutionary biologists and provides an exciting set of phenomena for artificial-life investigation. The key challenge is to explain the emergence of biotic communities that are capable, via their implicit coordination, of regulating large-scale biogeochemical factors such as the temperature and chemical composition of the biosphere, but to assume no evolutionary mechanisms beyond contemporary natural selection. Along with providing an introduction to Gaia theory, this article presents simulations of Gaian emergence based on an artificial-life model involving genetic algorithms and guilds of simple metabolizing agents. In these simulations, resource competition leads to guild diversity; the ensemble of guilds then manifests life-sustaining nutrient recycling and exerts distributed control over environmental nutrient ratios. These results illustrate that standard individual-based natural selection is sufficient to explain Gaian self-organization, and they help clarify the relationships between two key metrics of Gaian activity: recycling and regulation.