Watch: Can nature handle many more extinctions?

22 Feb 2016

Losing any species of animal or plant could have a far more lasting impact on our environment then many people think. But what happens when it’s more than one species vanishing?

A new paper in Nature takes a look at nature’s complex systems, and how our ecosystem can probably absorb a few extinctions here and there.

The problem is, what if too many bees die out? What trees and plants are they facilitating, and what would their extinction mean in the grand scheme of things?

Looking at ants as an example, Albert László Barabási and his colleagues claim to have developed the first-ever tool to identify whether systems are in danger of failing.

The difficulty in working out a blanket rule for when an ecosystem fails is that there are so many ingredients involved in keeping an environment habitable for its housed species. What’s true for ants and plants, might not be true for cats and rats, you see.

Using swathes of statistical data, Barabási & Co crunch down all the parameters and components of any complex system into a single crucial number. From their they establish a value, or tipping point.

It sounds rather far-fetched, but if you want to check the paper then it’s here. For me, though, it’s this wonderful video that makes the grade.

Main image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic