How we can apply the Network Theory to our Ecosystems

Referring to the “ Environment 360” from Yale University, written by the science writer Carl Zimmer, we can see the application of the network theory to the “small-world” networks that form and sustain our ecosystems. He relates to the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” theory we have heard about already and to Albert-Laszlo Barabasi,  who wrote “Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else,” which states that the World Wide Web is organized in similar way. There exist major nodes like (Google, New York, etc) that contain the bulk of links which contribute to the efficiency of the network. “These hubs shorten the path between all nodes in the entire network.”(Albert-Laszlo Barabasi,)

We can transform the idea of networks to the nature surrounding us in our everyday life as well. There exist various species (oak trees, bees, rats) which play different roles like predator, prey, pollinator or pollinated, having a different position in our ecosystem. Taking a look at the nature as a large network of different species, we can see all kinds of nodes and edges which built a huge network. Scientists try to construct this immense network to analyze the effects of overfishing, deforestation, and invasive species effects on en existing network. Through the development of such a natural network, scientists are able to investigate how pesticides and pollutants have an impact from the simple plant life to various species of animals and insects, all related to each other in a large ecosystem. One conclusion is that certain species with less connection to other species are more vulnerable. They also figured out that plants are dependent on animals to spread their pollen. Scientists investigated that there exist exquisitely co-evolved partners that specialize only on one another. This leads to a very strong relation between them since they are specialized and are more vulnerable to extinction if one partner does not exist anymore. In general we can say that species which have partnerships with various species are more likely to be resilient. Another scientist, Jordia Bascompte ,at the Spanish Research Council investigated that the biodiversity of the natural network fosters more than other kinds of networks.

All in all we can see that there exists a strong linking between various species in our ecosystem, all connected with each other through different relationships. We can also see the effect of extinction of one important natural node can have a significant impact on another species that we might would not have thought about. The natural network analysis seems to be essential to learn more about the effects of environmental pollution and the consequences for our ecosystem.


One thought on “How we can apply the Network Theory to our Ecosystems”

  1. Not only can networks tell us a lot about the effect on an ecosystem from the extinction of one species, but also about the effect of the introduction of a species to an ecosystem. Many non-native species are brought into an area by human interference, including animals we now take for granted such as common rats and rabbits. Know as invasive species, these animals thrive in new regions by harming already established native species. When an invasive species is introduced to a new area, they must be included in the existing network, and their relationships with other species must be monitored.

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