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Applying Network Analysis to Natural History


The approach lends itself to discoveries not just about the fossils themselves, but about the interdependence between the fossils and their environment.

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Harvard University, and the Carnegie Institution for Science are applying network analysis techniques to find patterns in Earths natural history

Credit: Peter Fox

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Harvard University, and the Carnegie Institution for Science are using network analysis techniques popularized through social media applications to discover patterns in Earth's natural history, which could help gauge the consequences of a possible "sixth mass extinction."

After using network analysis to search for communities of marine life in the Paleobiology Database's fossil records, the team quantified the ecological impacts of major events like mass extinctions.

Network analysis of Earth and life science databases can lead to discoveries of how "paleocommunities" changed over time, the researchers say.

The research offers a new perspective on the ecological impacts of present-day species extinctions, says Harvard researcher Drew Muscente.

The work illustrates how next-generation data analytics created for one domain can transform other fields of study, says Rensselaer professor Curt M. Breneman.

From Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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