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Computational Ecology --- a study of eco-system equilibria

Computational ecology provides a computational approach to modelling and analysing eco systems. This work will focus on analysing “food webs” and understanding their stability criteria through mathematical modelling techniques.

Department: Computer Science, Systems Engineering

Supervised by: Dr. M. Manjunathaiah

The Placement Project

A small number of cane toads from South America were introduced into Northern Australia as an “eco-friendly” way to eradicate the menace of cane beetles which were destroying agricultural crops. The beetles were eradicated, the crops saved and the eco-system left with the cane toads to contend with ! In 70 years the toads had multiplied out of control with estimates running into millions, occupying half a million square kilometre of land, having a devastating impact on wildlife and even threatening some species to extinction. This even triggered a special scientific workshop in June 2006 at Brisbane to address the potential damage to eco-system ! The cane toad had attained the status of being listed as the “most significant pest” in Northern Australia ! Predicting and mitigating rapid changes in a eco-system has become a significant scientific challenge in recent times in order to understand dynamics of eco-systems at local and global scale influenced by human (eg. over fishing) and environmental factors. Computational ecology provides a computational approach to the modelling and analysis of large scale systems. The aim of this research is to focus specifically on computational methods for modelling and analysing “food webs” --- ecological networks of species in order to understand the “stability” criteria of such networks by finding the equilibrium solutions to non-linear differential equations. For instance some models predict that long food chains cannot be stable or that complex webs may be unstable. Understanding existing models should provide insight into the dynamics of networks when other factors are taken into account. Several existing tools uch as Gecko from Yale University and other tools being developed at Microsoft research labs will be studied to make a comparative study of the effectiveness of the underlying methods. The proposed research study will be carried out under the supervision of the principal investigator.

Tasks

As part of the research study, a student will be expected to: • Perform literature survey • Study a class of computational approaches • Install and evaluate existing software packages related to the approaches • Produce a technical report related to the findings from the research study

Skills, knowledge and experience required

It is essential that the student should : • Have strong background in standard algorithmic techniques and mathematical modelling. • Be proficient in programming • Have good technical report writing skills • Have strong motivation for research work

Skills which will be developed during the placement

• Experience in research methods of making comparative studies. • Knowledge of algorithmic approaches in tackling ecological problems. • Introduction to state-of-the art software tools for ecosystem research which can benefit a student in producing a high quality part 3 project. • Technical report writing skills and a potential publication that can enhance a student’s CV.

Place of Work

UoR

Hours of Work

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Unknown - Unknown

How to Apply

Applications in the form of a CV from suitable candidates with a covering letter stating why the student feels he/she is qualified for the research placement may be submitted to m.manjunathaiah@reading.ac.uk


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