Mathematical model can save Bengal tiger, blue whale

Mathematical model can save Bengal tiger, blue whale

An Indian Bengal tiger looks on in a forest clearing in Kaziranga National Park. AFP file photo.

Scientists say they have developed a novel mathematical model that may help prevent the extinction of endangered species such as blue whale, Bengal tiger and the green turtle.

There are multiple reasons for species to die out, and climate change is among the main reasons, said researchers from the University of Southern Denmark.

The risk of extinction varies from species to species depending on how individuals in its populations reproduce and how long each animal survives, according to the research published in the journal Ecology Letters.

Understanding the dynamics of survival and reproduction can support management actions to improve a species' chances of surviving.

Mathematical and statistical models have become powerful tools to help explain these dynamics.

However, the quality of the information we use to construct such models is crucial to improve our chances of accurately predicting the fate of populations in nature.

"A model that over-simplifies survival and reproduction can give the illusion that a population is thriving when in reality it will go extinct," said Fernando Colchero, an associate professor at the University of Southern Denmark.

The research focuses on mathematically recreating the population dynamics by better understanding the species' demography.

Researchers worked on constructing and exploring stochastic population models that predict how a certain population -- for example an endangered species -- will change over time.

These models include mathematical factors to describe how the species' environment, survival rates and reproduction determine the population's size and growth. For practical reasons some assumptions are necessary.

Two commonly accepted assumptions are that survival and reproduction are constant with age, and that high survival in the species goes hand in hand with reproduction across all age groups within a species.

Colchero challenged these assumptions by accounting for age-specific survival and reproduction, and for trade-offs between survival and reproduction. This is, that sometimes conditions that favour survival will be unfavourable for reproduction, and vice versa.

For his work Colchero used statistics, mathematical derivations, and computer simulations with data from wild populations of 24 species of vertebrates.

The outcome was a significantly improved model that had more accurate predictions for a species' population growth.

This type of model can have very practical implications as they provide qualified explanations for the underlying reasons for the extinction, researchers said.

This can be used to take management actions and may help prevent the extinction of endangered species, they said.

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