Google can Predict Which Species go Extinct at What Time

Google is doing few wonders everyday, fascinating each one of us.

Google’s Algorithm can smartly predict extinction of a species. Now if you wonder how can Google do that? Google was never into medical science? You are wrong!

Google has been into medical science research aswell since years. But this has nothing to do with the current method of determining extinction of a species. It’s actually based on Bare grounds of google search — “PageRank”. Yes that’s true, based on standard google search algorithm.

Scientists have long known that the extinction of key species in a food web can cause collapse of the entire system, but the vast number of interactions between species makes it difficult to guess which animals and plants are the most important. Now, computational biologists have adapted the Google search algorithm, called PageRank, to the problem of predicting ecological collapse, and they’ve created a startlingly accurate model.

As Wired quotes:

“While several previous studies have looked at the robustness of food webs to a variety of sequences of species loss, none of them have come up with a way to identify the most devastating sequence of extinctions,” said food web biologist Jennifer Dunne of the Santa Fe Institute, who was not involved in the research. Using a modified version of PageRank, Dunne said, the researchers were able to identify which species extinctions within a food web would lead to biggest chain-reaction of species death.

“If we can find the way of removing species so that the destruction of the ecosystem is the fastest, it means we’re ranking species by their importance,” said ecologist Stefano Allesina of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who co-authored the paper published Friday in PLoS Computational Biology.

Unlike previous solutions to the coextinction problem, the Google solution takes into account not only the number of connections between species, but also their relative importance. “In PageRank, you’re an important website if important websites point to you,” Allesina said. “We took that idea and reversed it: Species are important if they support important species.”

In other words, grass is important because it’s eaten by gazelles, and gazelles are important because they’re eaten by lions.

“If we can find the way of removing species so that the destruction of the ecosystem is the fastest, it means we’re ranking species by their importance,” said ecologist Stefano Allesina of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who co-authored the paper published Friday in PLoS Computational Biology.

Unlike previous solutions to the coextinction problem, the Google solution takes into account not only the number of connections between species, but also their relative importance. “In PageRank, you’re an important website if important websites point to you,” Allesina said. “We took that idea and reversed it: Species are important if they support important species.”

When the researchers tested the Google algorithm against existing models for predicting ecosystem collapse, they found that the new solution outperformed the old ones in each of the 12 food webs they looked at. “In every case that we tested, the algorithm returned either the best possible solution, out of the billions of possibilities, or very close to it,” Allesina said. In this case, the “best possible solution” is the one that predicts total ecosystem collapse using the fewest number of species extinctions.

To make the circular PageRank algorithm work for food webs, which are traditionally considered unidirectional, the researchers had to solve the problem of what to do with dead ends: Not much eats a lion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean lions aren’t critical to the food chain. The scientists solved this problem by adding what Allesina calls a “root node,” which is based on the idea that all living creatures contribute to the food chain through their excrement and eventual decay.

When the researchers tested the Google algorithm against existing models for predicting ecosystem collapse, they found that the new solution outperformed the old ones in each of the 12 food webs they looked at. “In every case that we tested, the algorithm returned either the best possible solution, out of the billions of possibilities, or very close to it,” Allesina said. In this case, the “best possible solution” is the one that predicts total ecosystem collapse using the fewest number of species extinctions.

To make the circular PageRank algorithm work for food webs, which are traditionally considered unidirectional, the researchers had to solve the problem of what to do with dead ends: Not much eats a lion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean lions aren’t critical to the food chain. The scientists solved this problem by adding what Allesina calls a “root node,” which is based on the idea that all living creatures contribute to the food chain through their excrement and eventual decay.

More at source: Wired

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  • This is a fascinating article. Who on earth would think that the method that determines page rank on the net could be applied to the extinction rate of species.

    According to the I.U.C.N. 16,928 species are endangered at this time. I hope this algorithm model can help show the way how man can step in to help!

    Man is having to step in constantly. They are breeding animals in zoos,quarantine fogs because of the fungus called chytrid, and on it goes.

    I would like to read more about this algorithm model and how it can be part of the solution.

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