When a species disappears from a region, the rest of the ecosystem may flourish or collapse, depending on the role that species played. When a storm rolls across the coast, the power grid might reconfigure itself quickly or leave cities dark for days. A snowstorm might mean business as usual in a hardy city and a severe food shortage in another, depending on the distribution strategies of residents.
Each of these systems is a kind of network, with thousands of members and relationships linking them. Understanding how networks behave is key to ensuring their functioning.
With current network theory, scientists can predict a few simple trends, such as which web pages are likely to get more hits over time. Mostly, current models “flatten” the system to a list of points (nodes) and connections between them (edges). But the features that bestow a network’s true cohesion and character – such as the nuanced predator-prey dynamics in an ecosystem, hierarchies in a social community, or critical hubs in a distribution system – have eluded quantification.
A new four-year, $2.9 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is supporting SFI research that will, the researchers hope, propel their understanding of networks to the next level.
Via Ashish Umre, Betty Cares