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Powerful mathematical model greatly improves predictions for species facing climate change
Date:12/2/2011

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.

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Contact: Stuart Wolpert
swolpert@support.ucla.edu
310-206-0511
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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