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Press Release 11-015

Mathematical Model Could Help Predict and Prevent Future Extinctions

Research could rescue fragile ecosystems and halt complex cascade events

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Illustration showing how some extinctions or network failures can be avoided.

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


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