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A theory of diversity. (English) Zbl 1121.91414
Summary: How can diversity be measured? What does it mean to value biodiversity? Can we assist Noah in constructing his preferences? To address these questions, we propose a multi-attribute approach under which the diversity of a set of species is the sum of the values of all attributes possessed by some species in the set. We develop the basic intuitions and requirements for a theory of diversity and show that the multi-attribute approach satisfies them in a flexible yet tractable manner.
A natural starting point is to think of the diversity of a set as an aggregate of the pairwise dissimilarities between its elements. The multi-attribute framework allows one to make this program formally precise. It is shown that the program can be realized if and only if the family of relevant attributes is well-ordered (“acyclic”). Moreover, there is a unique functional form aggregating dissimilarity into diversity, the length of a minimum spanning tree. Examples are taxonomic hierarchies and lines representing uni-dimensional qualities. In multi-dimensional settings, pairwise dissimilarity information among elements is insufficient to determine their diversity. By consequence, the qualitative and quantitative behavior of diversity differs fundamentally.

MSC:
91D10 Models of societies, social and urban evolution
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