New math model could help preserve species

The UN has declared 2010 the year of biodiversity while climate change poses a distinct threat to many different ecosystems.

By EHUD ZION WALDOKS
September 13, 2010 05:06
1 minute read.
Illustrative photo

frogs cool 248.88. (photo credit: Amir Balaban)

A Hebrew University doctoral student has created a general model to predict how a number of species will adapt to changes in their habitats, the university announced on Sunday.

Instead of relying solely on empirical studies as the basis for habitat conservation, Omri Allouche, a student at the Department of Evolution, Systematics and Ecology at the Hebrew University, has developed, under the supervision of Prof. Ronen Kadmon, a predictive mathematical model.

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The UN has declared 2010 the year of biodiversity while climate change poses a distinct threat to many different ecosystems. Allouche’s model indicates that some of the basic assumptions regarding protecting species may be incorrect.

For instance, conservationists expect habitats to be able to absorb a certain amount of degradation before the species are threatened. Allouche’s model indicates that there might be a critical point at which biodiversity suffers a tremendous setback in a given habitat, rather than a more gradual effect.

Another commonly held belief among conservationists is that improving the habitat will improve biodiversity. However, Allouche’s model indicates that belief might not be true, as some empirical studies have also indicated.

The basis of the theory is a mathematical model that predicts the number of species expected in an ecological community from properties of the species (e.g., rates of birth, death, and migration) and the environment (e.g., resource availability, habitat loss, frequency of disturbances), according to the university.

Most current models of biodiversity responses to climate change make the assumption that the dispersal ability of species is unlimited, according to the Hebrew University. However, Allouche’s Barenholz Prize-winning work shows that this assumption significantly reduces the predictive power of such models and can therefore lead to misleading conclusions.




Allouche’s more general model may lead conservationists and policy-makers to take into account many more factors in their work.

Given the vast array of habitats and species, theoretical frameworks have been hard to develop based on observed phenomena. By turning to mathematics, Allouche may be able to abstract the factors to provide new insights into an increasingly precarious situation.


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