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Networks in Nature

Even though networks are often seen as a way to analyze technological information and social interactions, these networks can also be applied in studying nature. One simple example of a network in nature are food webs. These food webs illustrate the predator and prey relationship seen in a specific ecosystem with directional edges as their relationship and the nodes as each species. This is essential in analyzing the effects of certain events that would harm or help certain creatures and can be seen when examining the changing environment of the Ross Sea, a deep bay in the southern ocean of Antarctica. Due due a decrease in summer sea ice from increasing temperatures, certain organism in the ecosystems food web have been drastically affected. Krill is one of them. Because of their dependence on ice, their number are decreasing. By examining the food web, it is easy to see that other species that eat krill will also suffer. These predators include  minke whales, Adélie and Emperor penguins, and crab eater seals.  It can also be seen that Leopard Seals will have less to eat due to this environmental change. Although they do not eat krill often, they do prey on both penguins and crab eater seals, whose numbers will decrease as stated before. Although all organisms in the food web are affected, those closer to the source are more impacted. Food webs are helpful in fully understanding the great ripple caused by the decline of krill in the environment.

Another example of scientists using networks to help analyze aspects of biology is the use of protein-protein interaction networks. Proteins often interact with each other causing various results from disease to transporting proteins within the organism. Large networks are used to keep track of how each protein affects each other. In these networks, any two nodes, each representing a protein, connected by an edge have an interaction. These edges can also vary depending on the type of interaction. Due to how many protein there are, networks that only include certain proteins make it easier for scientists to  keep track of these interactions. This map of protein-protein interactions can be used to examine diseases, such as Huntington’s disease, and signaling cascades among other topics. These interactions are essential in the creation of medicine and out understanding of the human body. As shown by these examples, networks are useful tools, when understanding multiple interactions in nature.




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September 2014