Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Powerful mathematical model greatly improves predictions for species facing climate change

05.12.2011
UCLA life scientists and colleagues have produced the most comprehensive mathematical model ever devised to track the health of populations exposed to environmental change.

The research, federally funded by the National Science Foundation, is published Dec. 2 in the journal Science.

The team's groundbreaking integral projection model, or IPM, unites various sub-disciplines of population biology, including population ecology, quantitative genetics, population genetics, and life-span and offspring information, allowing researchers to link many different data sources simultaneously. Scientists can now change just a single variable, like temperature, and see how that affects many factors for a population.

"This is one of the most innovative and holistic models, because it unifies so many sub-fields of ecology and genetics into one predictive model," said study co-author Robert Wayne, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who led the UCLA research team. "Traditionally, we have studied just a few ecological parameters at a time, like how much food there is or how the environment will change over time, and how that relates to population size. Here, we are analyzing everything at once."

Among the researchers' major findings with the IPM is that gradual, sustained change in an environment over time — a gradual increase in temperature, for example — has a greater impact on the species in an ecosystem than fluctuating changes.

"If we change the total environment, such as temperature, we change a whole suite of characteristics for a species, including viability, fertility, population size, body size and generation length," Wayne said.

The new model could therefore be of great use in predicting the complex ecological impacts that could result as Earth's temperature gradually rises as a result of high carbon dioxide emissions entering the atmosphere and oceans.

"Probably much of the tundra in the high Arctic will disappear with global warming," Wayne said. "Since this is a very general model, it can be applied to any population, from a polar bear to a wolf to a beetle, even plants. We want to use this model to make predictions about populations that are in dire situations, as their environments will be changing quickly."

Just as physicists are searching for a unified field theory to bring the physics of the very large in harmony with the physics of the very small, the IPM "is the version in ecology and population genetics of a similar unified theory," Wayne said.

The collaboration that led to the new model followed a fortuitous meeting between Wayne and collaborator Tim Coulson, a professor of population biology at Imperial College London. Following a talk by Coulson at UCLA , Wayne and his research team combined their decades of expertise on the wolf population in Yellowstone National Park with Coulson's expertise in applied mathematics — and the most comprehensive ecological model was born.

Wolves were first introduced into Yellowstone in 1995 to control the overpopulation of elk and bison and to restore deteriorated forests. These wolves were closely monitored with radio collars in the years that followed, generating a vast array of detailed data. The effects they generated in the park — known as a trophic cascade — allowed many species, such as songbirds, beavers and grizzly bears, to thrive again as the elk and bison populations diminished.

"A critical issue for us is how these wolves will survive into the future," Wayne said. "This model addresses that issue in a comprehensive way by taking in so many components of population health."

The model also explains the persistence of the grey coat color in Yellowstone wolves, despite the fact that the gene for black coat color is dominant. Using genetic data collected in Wayne's laboratory, the IMP revealed that wolves who possessed two different versions of the coat-color gene, known as heterozygotes, lived longer and had more offspring than wolves who had two identical genes for coat color.

This example demonstrates the power of the new model, as it can make sense of seemingly unrelated information on population genetics and life history and generate a clearer understanding of an observed coat-color phenotype, and beyond that, the implications for survival of these animals in a complex ecosystem.

By using a model that could generate more accurate predictions, "We could potentially build scenarios predicting whether a species has no chance of recovery, and this could lead protection efforts," Wayne said.

"We are not very effective at stopping global warming, but perhaps we could identify ways to alter or enrich habitats to mitigate environmental effects," he added.

Coulson, the study's lead author, and postdoctoral scholar Daniel MacNulty worked extensively on the modeling system using data on Yellowstone wolves organized by Wayne and co-authors Daniel Stahler, a UCLA graduate student, and Bridgett vonHoldt, a UC Irvine postdoctoral scholar who conducted her graduate research in Wayne's laboratory. Important contributions also came from the National Park Service's Douglas Smith, project leader for the Yellowstone National Park Gray Wolf Restoration Project, in conjunction with Stahler.

UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of nearly 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer 337 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Six alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.

For more news, visit the UCLA Newsroom and follow us on Twitter.

Stuart Wolpert | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucla.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Upcycling of PET Bottles: New Ideas for Resource Cycles in Germany
25.06.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Betriebsfestigkeit und Systemzuverlässigkeit LBF

nachricht Dry landscapes can increase disease transmission
20.06.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>