Scientists Tackle a Complex Topic

If you think science can be a complicated matter, rest assured that real-life scientists grapple with the same issue. Chicago Zoological Society population biologist Dr. Bob Lacy works with other science colleagues to develop solutions to some the problems confronting the Biocomplexity Network. To reverse declines in numbers of endangered species, this group of biologists, social scientists, computer programmers, geographers, and others are working together to develop new ways to study “biocomplexity.” This word describes the interactions between biological processes, the physical world, and human activities.
Currently, various types of software can simulate pertinent factors such as global warming or land development near a national park. (Lacy’s contribution is software that simulates changes in wildlife populations.) The group is now developing “meta model” software that links all of these simulations in order to offer wildlife managers, conservation planners, researchers, and students a more complete picture of the impact of human activities on endangered species, as well as possible conservation actions.
As just one example of what these scientists are facing, predicting changes to numbers of lake trout in Lake Michigan requires an understanding of the interaction of many factors. These factors include the trouts’ reproductive rate; how many are caught by fishermen; the effects of sewage treatment plants, water quality, and invasive species on the fish; the number of people living near the lake; and the amount of sediment created by rivers that drain farms and suburbs. Different kinds of scientists have information about each of these processes, but successful management of the lake trout requires that we combine knowledge from all of them.
The Biocomplexity Network will have an initial version of the software soon but will meet again in the fall to further refine this groundbreaking conservation tool.