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Desert Diary
Biology/Emergent Properties


Emergent properties. Sound like something in the middle of a swamp in Florida? Nice guess, but it's much more exotic. Remember hearing that the whole is more than the sum of its parts? Put things together, and often you come up with strange results you couldn't have predicted. Take two gases, hydrogen and oxygen, put them together in a ratio of two to one to form a molecule, and you have a substance far different than either—namely water, with new properties present in neither of its parent elements.

Living things also have emergent properties. A population of desert lizards has traits no single individual could have, such as an average size, the ratio of males to females, and the distribution of ages within the population. Far from being an artifact of human thought, these—and other properties—strongly affect the nature and survivability of the population. Have doubts? Imagine a human population with 20 males to every female—do you really think this population would be the same as the one we live in?
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

abstract, gas to water


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