Species distributions, quantum theory, and the enhancement of biodiversity measures

Species distributions are typically represented by records of their observed occurrence at a given spatial and temporal scale. Such records are inevitably incomplete and contingent on the spatial–temporal circumstances under which the observations were made. Moreover, organisms may respond differently to similar environmental conditions at different places or moments, so their distribution is, in principle, not completely predictable. We argue that this uncertainty exists, and warrants considering species distributions as analogous to coherent quantum objects, whose distributions are better described by a wavefunction rather than by a set of locations. We use this to extend the existing concept of “dark diversity”, which incorporates into biodiversity metrics those species that could, but which have not yet been observed to, inhabit a region—thereby developing the idea of “potential biodiversity”. We show how conceptualizing species’ distributions in this way could help overcome important weaknesses in current biodiversity metrics, both in theory and by using a worked case study of mammal distributions in Spain over the last decade. We propose that considerable theoretical advances could eventually be gained through interdisciplinary collaboration between biogeographers and quantum physicists. [Biogeography; favorability; physics; predictability; probability; species occurrence; uncertainty; wavefunction.