Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Creatures of influence

Date:
November 6, 2013
Source:
University of Bristol
Summary:
An international research team has developed mathematical tools that can estimate which species are most influential in a food web.

European otter. The interactions in a food web and an ecosystem are so complex that one can often only guess about the roles that each species plays.
Credit: Bristol University

In the children's game "Jenga," removing the wrong block from a tower of wooden blocks can cause the entire tower to collapse. In the same way, removing certain species from an ecosystem can cause a collapse in ecological function. A common scientific question has been to identify these critical species in different ecosystems and an international research team has developed mathematical tools that can estimate which species are most influential in a food web.

The researchers from the University of Bristol, the Max Planck Institute for Physics of Complex Systems and the US Geological Survey have taken a new modeling approach to the question. The team, using the new mathematical tools, found that long-lived, generalist top predators -- such as otters -- play the most influential roles within a food web. The findings are published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Helge Aufderheide of the Max Planck Institute and University of Bristol, who led the research, said: "The interactions in an ecosystem are so complex that one can often only guess about the roles that each species plays. Therefore, knowing how to find the key players makes all the difference for understanding where to focus studies."

Long-lived, generalist top predators can highly influence ecosystems because they feed on different types of prey that occupy different parts of the food web. For example, otters feed on a wide variety of aquatic prey and can influence multiple species throughout the course of their relatively long lifespan. Removing otters from the ecosystem would cause long-term disruptions to all those species, a theory that the new models can now confirm for other species and ecosystems.

Understanding how the gain or loss of a single species affects a complex food web has been a difficult mathematical challenge, and the new findings provide fundamental insights into complex natural systems. The new study offers a rule of thumb to help other studies focus their research and data collection on species in order of their expected importance, and increase the efficiency of their research effort.

Kevin Lafferty, an author of the paper from USGS, said: "As a biologist who studies food webs, I'm hopeful that we can use this approach to help focus our field work."

The new approach has non-ecological applications as well. Even though the research team applied the computational tools on food webs, their approach also can be applied to other types of complex systems -- from electricity grids to online social networks -- to identify influential components.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Helge Aufderheide, Lars Rudolf, Thilo Gross, and Kevin D. Lafferty. Predicting community responses in the face of imperfect knowledge and network complexity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, November 2013

Cite This Page:

University of Bristol. "Creatures of influence." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131106073919.htm>.
University of Bristol. (2013, November 6). Creatures of influence. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131106073919.htm
University of Bristol. "Creatures of influence." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131106073919.htm (accessed April 23, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Monkeys Are Better At Math Than We Thought, Study Shows

Monkeys Are Better At Math Than We Thought, Study Shows

Newsy (Apr. 23, 2014) A Harvard University study suggests monkeys can use symbols to perform basic math calculations. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India

Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) A leopard caused panic in the city of Chandrapur on Monday when it sprung from the roof of a house and charged at rescue workers. (April 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Iowa College Finds Beauty in Bulldogs

Iowa College Finds Beauty in Bulldogs

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) Drake University hosts 35th annual Beautiful Bulldog Contest. (April 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
805-Pound Shark Caught Off The Coast Of Florida

805-Pound Shark Caught Off The Coast Of Florida

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) One Florida fisherman caught a 805-pound shark off the coast of Florida earlier this month. 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