Associate 2020-21

James P O'Dwyer

Plant Biology

ODwyer imageWhen Will Complex Systems Thrive, Survive or Collapse? 

During his CAS appointment, Professor O’Dwyer plans to forge new links between ecology, economics, anthropology, and organizational studies. He will lay concrete groundwork by focusing on a specific topic: cooperation and the exchange of resources. Exchange is widespread in biological systems where, for example, trees trade nutrients via shared underground fungal networks, and bacterial communities swap metabolites via crossfeeding. Exchange is also central in social systems, for example, as a means to mitigate uncertain environments in ancestral and modern societies. This project will underline the potential for exchange to help the players in a complex system mitigate uncertain environments, but will also draw upon Professor O’Dwyer’s own recent work demonstrating that exchange can lead to instability. This potential for instability has important implications for understanding depopulation, disintegration, and collapse across complex systems; this project will open new channels of communication across multiple fields.