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September 4, 2009

Googling Extinctions

If I had to hazard a guess, most of you reading this right now have used Google. In fact, maybe you found us using Google. You've probably noticed as well that Google has a system for ranking the pages for a search. This algorithm is very useful for finding what you're looking for on the web. For ecologists, a very similar algorithm is now being used to rank food webs.

The idea behind the ecological Page Rank algorithm isn't all that different from the Internet one. Online, Google says a page is important if other important pages link to it. The ecologists put in a series of species (instead of websites), then use the equation to determine which species is most important to the ecosystem. It's a simple idea, but a very important one for deciding how to protect the natural environments.

Even better, this new application of a useful algorithm may trigger similar developments for network-related sciences: gene regulation, for instance, or protein interaction. Basically, any process that works on a "web" could make use of the Page Rank algorithm to determine the key elements. Who knew that the math behind Google would reach out beyond the realms of the Internet?

Credit: Science Daily- Web Page Ranking Algorithm Detects Critical Species in Ecosystems