An ecological invasion mimics a drunken walk
A theory that uses the mathematics of a drunken walk describes ecological invasions better than waves, according to Tim Reluga, associate professor of mathematics and biology, Penn State.
The ability to predict the movement of an ecological invasion is important because it determines how resources should be spent to stop an invasion in its tracks. The spread of disease such as the black plague in Europe or the spread of an invasive species such as the gypsy moth from Asia are examples of ecological invasions.
Two camps of scientists work on this problem — mathematicians and ecologists. Mathematicians focus on creating models to describe invasion waves, while ecologists go to the field to measure observations of invasions, building computer simulations to predict the phenomenon they observe. Ideally both camps should agree on the underlying theory to explain their model results. But an ongoing argument continues among these scientists due to one seemingly simple detail — how randomness affects an ecological invasion. Reluga hopes his approach will settle the argument, reconciling mathematical models with ecological observations.
"I hope this paper makes things clear that different kinds of randomness have different effects on invasions," Reluga said.
Read more at PennState
Photo credit: CDC/ Courtesy of Larry Stauffer, Oregon State Public Health Laboratory via Wikimedia Commons