UC Davis scientists have made an important discovery in the field of animal science and ecology, by using mathematical models to explain animal habitats and ecosystems. The study could aid in properly designing corridors for animal migration.
Traditionally, scientists have looked at animal habitats in terms of symmetry, assuming that what happens in nature can be explained in a linear, predictable fashion. Alan Hastings, a UCD professor and theoretical ecologist used mathematical equations to disprove this idea, working closely with the main author of the study, Matthew Holland.
“We hope that our colleagues will understand the importance of studying different spatial arrangements when trying to understand the effect of space in ecology – and that the importance of irregularities will be better appreciated,” Hastings said in an e-mail interview.
Holland emphasized the importance of studying specific systems and making customized plans for animal migration corridors – human-made paths that help animals migrate when development displaces their natural course.
“I think that in most cases, thinking of how to plan corridors is necessary and important,” Holland said. “We can’t make a blanket statement, you have to study the specific system and figure out what is the best way to plan things.“
Looking at irregular systems is important, as they are more representative of nature’s irregular and unpredictable ecology. Not paying enough attention to irregular dispersal networks – an asymmetrical network – could cause researchers to overlook variations in animal population fluctuations.
If researchers don’t accurately design migration corridors, the species could face extinction due to a decrease in genetic variation, Holland said.
“That’s the main point. If we get less variations, then extinction is less likely,” Holland said.
“Our main advice is to consider the effect of corridors,” Holland said. “Results suggest that in some cases asymmetrical corridors or arranged travel plans might be more favorable of persistence of the species.“
Davis‘ famed Toad Tunnel, which runs underneath the Pole Line Road overpass, is a corridor system that could have benefited from this study. The tunnel was built in the late 1990s to help frogs maintain their natural movement patterns without needing to cross the busy street – and even earned Davis a segment on “The Daily Show“ in 1999.
But the tunnel became problematic when frogs didn’t actually use it, Holland said.
ANGELA RUGGIERO can be reached at email@example.com.