Browsing by Subject "ecological complexity"

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  • Cardoso, Pedro; Branco, Vasco V.; Borges, Paulo A.; Carvalho, Jose C.; Rigal, Francois; Gabriel, Rosalina; Mammola, Stefano; Cascalho, Jose; Correia, Luis (2020)
    Ecological systems are the quintessential complex systems, involving numerous high-order interactions and non-linear relationships. The most used statistical modeling techniques can hardly accommodate the complexity of ecological patterns and processes. Finding hidden relationships in complex data is now possible using massive computational power, particularly by means of artificial intelligence and machine learning methods. Here we explored the potential of symbolic regression (SR), commonly used in other areas, in the field of ecology. Symbolic regression searches for both the formal structure of equations and the fitting parameters simultaneously, hence providing the required flexibility to characterize complex ecological systems. Although the method here presented is automated, it is part of a collaborative human-machine effort and we demonstrate ways to do it. First, we test the robustness of SR to extreme levels of noise when searching for the species-area relationship. Second, we demonstrate how SR can model species richness and spatial distributions. Third, we illustrate how SR can be used to find general models in ecology, namely new formulas for species richness estimators and the general dynamic model of oceanic island biogeography. We propose that evolving free-form equations purely from data, often without prior human inference or hypotheses, may represent a very powerful tool for ecologists and biogeographers to become aware of hidden relationships and suggest general theoretical models and principles.
  • Voutilainen, Ari; Arvola, Lauri Matti Juhani (2017)
    In order to improve our understanding of the connections between the biological processes and abiotic factors, we clustered complex long-term ecological data with the self-organizing map (SOM) technique. The available 21-year long (1990–2010) data set from a small pristine humic lake, in southern Finland, consisted of 27 meteorological, physical, chemical, and biological variables. The SOM grouped the data into three categories of which the first one was the largest with 12 variables, including metabolic processes, dissolved oxygen, total nitrogen and phosphorus, chlorophyll a, and taxonomical groups of plankton known to exist in spring. The second cluster comprised of water temperature and precipitation together with cyanobacteria, algae, rotifers, and crustacean zooplankton, an association emphasized with summer. The third cluster was consisted of six physical and chemical variables linked to autumn, and to the effects of inflow and/or water column mixing. SOM is a useful method for grouping the variables of such a large multi-dimensional data set, especially, when the purpose is to draw comprehensive conclusions rather than to search for associations across sporadic variables. Sampling should minimize the number of missing values. Even flexible statistical techniques, such as SOM, are vulnerable to biased results due to incomplete data.