Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mathematical model could help predict and prevent future extinctions

Date:
January 26, 2011
Source:
National Science Foundation
Summary:
In an effort to better understand the dynamics of complex networks, scientists have developed a mathematical model to describe interactions within ecological food webs. The work illustrates how human intervention may effectively aid species conservation efforts.

When an ecosystem is healthy, food, territory and other resources are balanced among species, as depicted in the top left diagram. If a key species or network component drastically decreases, an entire system may be disrupted as shown on the left. Aiding the troubled species or component, the approach illustrated in the top right image, may further strain the connections in the network, perpetuating the imbalance. A newly developed mathematical model suggests some extinctions or network failures can be avoided and the network can be rebalanced by suppressing, rather than enhancing, one or more members of the network, bottom right.
Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation

In an effort to better understand the dynamics of complex networks, scientists have developed a mathematical model to describe interactions within ecological food webs. This research, performed by Northwestern University physics professor Adilson Motter and his student, Sagar Sahasrabudhe, is published in the January 25 issue of Nature Communications. The work illustrates how human intervention may effectively aid species conservation efforts.

"Our study provides a theoretical basis for management efforts that would aim to mitigate extinction cascades in food web networks. There is evidence that a significant fraction of all extinctions are caused not by a primary perturbation but instead by the propagation of a cascade," said Motter.

Extinction cascades are often observed following the loss of a key species within an ecosystem. As the system changes to compensate for the loss, availability of food, territory and other resources to each of the remaining members can fluctuate wildly, creating a boom-or-bust environment that can lead to even more extinctions. According to the study, more than 70 percent of these extinctions are preventable, assuming that the system can be brought into balance using only available resources--no new factors may be introduced.

Motter explained further, "We find that extinction cascades can often be mitigated by suppressing--rather than enhancing--the populations of specific species. In numerous cases, it is predicted that even the proactive removal of a species that would otherwise be extinct by a cascade can prevent the extinction of other species."

The finding may seem counterintuitive to conservationists because the compensatory actions seem to inflict further damage to the system. However, when the entire ecosystem is considered, the effect is beneficial. This news holds promise for those charged with maintaining Earth's biodiversity and natural resources--the health of which can counteract many of the causes of climate change, and some man-made disasters such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The dodo bird, Raphus cucullatus, is one example of extinction due to human activity. The dodo was a large, flightless bird that became extinct in the 1600s. It is likely that a combination of factors including hunting, loss of habitat, and perhaps even a flash flood, stressed the ecosystem on the island of Mauritius, home of the dodo. Some researchers think that human introduction of non-native species, such as dogs, pigs, cats and rats to the island, is what ultimately lead to the demise of the dodo.

In any case, in the future, it may be possible to avoid extinction of some species in stressed ecosystems by applying the new method of analysis developed by Motter.

The goal of this project, funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Mathematical Sciences, is to develop mathematical methods to study dynamical processes in complex networks. Although the specific application mentioned here may be useful in management of ecosystems, the mathematical foundation underlying the analysis is much more universal. The broad concept is innovative in the area of complex networks because it concludes that large-scale failures can be avoided by focusing on preventing the waves of failure that follow the initial event.

This approach could be used to stabilize a wide array of complex networks. It can apply to biochemical networks in order to slow or stop progression of diseases caused by variations inside individual cells. It can also be used to manage technological networks such as the smart grid to prevent blackouts. It can even apply to regulation of complicated financial networks by identifying key factors in the early stages of a financial downturn, which, when met with human intervention, could potentially save billions of dollars.

The world is a complicated place that gets even trickier when trying to mathematically explain a complex network, especially when the network evolves within an environment that is itself changing. But, Motter says his mathematical model is promising for the study of changing environments.

"Uncertainty itself is not a problem," he quipped. "The problem comes when you cannot estimate uncertainty."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Sagar Sahasrabudhe, Adilson E. Motter. Rescuing ecosystems from extinction cascades through compensatory perturbations. Nature Communications, 2011; 2: 170 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1163

Cite This Page:

National Science Foundation. "Mathematical model could help predict and prevent future extinctions." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 January 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110125172439.htm>.
National Science Foundation. (2011, January 26). Mathematical model could help predict and prevent future extinctions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110125172439.htm
National Science Foundation. "Mathematical model could help predict and prevent future extinctions." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110125172439.htm (accessed August 20, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Possible Ebola Patient in Isolation at California Hospital

Possible Ebola Patient in Isolation at California Hospital

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 20, 2014) A patient who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus is in isolation at the Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Flower Power! Dandelions Make Car Tires?

Flower Power! Dandelions Make Car Tires?

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 20, 2014) Forget rolling on rubber, could car drivers soon be traveling on tires made from dandelions? Teams of scientists are racing to breed a type of the yellow flower whose taproot has a milky fluid with tire-grade rubber particles in it. As Joanna Partridge reports, global tire makers are investing millions in research into a new tire source. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Unsustainable Elephant Poaching Killed 100K In 3 Years

Unsustainable Elephant Poaching Killed 100K In 3 Years

Newsy (Aug. 20, 2014) Poachers have killed 100,000 elephants between 2010 and 2012, as the booming ivory trade takes its toll on the animals in Africa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Awesome New Camouflage Sheet Was Inspired By Octopus Skin

Awesome New Camouflage Sheet Was Inspired By Octopus Skin

Newsy (Aug. 19, 2014) Scientists have developed a new device that mimics the way octopuses blend in with their surroundings to hide from dangerous predators. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins