New study could help predict extinction tipping-point for species

Thursday, September 9, 2010

LONDON - A study at the University of South Carolina could pave way for predicting the extinction of a species.

The research by John M. Drake at the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology, and Blaine D. Griffen, assistant professor at the University of South Carolina has implications for understanding drastic, even catastrophic, changes in many other kinds of complex systems, from the human brain to entire ecosystems.

The scientists studied the fluctuations in experimental populations of water fleas (Daphnia magna) undergoing environmental stress until they reach a tipping point beyond which they do not remain viable.

Drake explained that critical slowing down (CSD) describes the decreasing rate of recovery from small disturbances to a system as it approaches a tipping point. When a system is close to a tipping point, it can take a long time to recover from even a very small disturbance.

Depending upon the amount of food they received, populations in the deteriorating environment group reached the population viability tipping point after approximately 300 days.

The researchers next looked at a variety of statistical indicators, early warning signals that could detect the onset of CSD and thereby predict the approach to a tipping point.

“We have shown that CSD can happen in populations-that is all. The real world is a lot ‘noisier’ than the lab. Using early warning signals to predict approaching tipping points could eventually be a powerful tool for conservation planning, though, and for better understanding a host of other kinds of systems as well,” Drake said.

The paper is published in the early online edition of the journal Nature. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

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