Giving hope to threatened species

Giving hope to threatened species
December 18, 2014 eRSA Marketing

Dr Damien Fordham

Dr Damien Fordham

As a global change biologist with an interest in the causes and consequences of extinction, the University of Adelaide researcher develops sophisticated simulation models to anticipate the likelihood of at-risk species being eliminated.

“The models couple ecological and climatic-geophysical processes to predict the likely extinction risk and loss of biodiversity due to human impacts on the biosphere,” he said.

“These models take into account the impact of interactive factors such as climate change, shifting land-use, wildlife exploitation and elevated rates of competition and predation by invasive organisms.”

With the complex inputs required for the modelling, Dr Fordham’s research group turned to eResearch SA for a solution for the powerful computation required to process the multifaceted inputs.

Through eResearch SA, they purchased some servers which eResearch SA set up as acluster of 6 Windows (Win 7 Enterprise) and 1 Linux (Ubuntu server) virtual machines (VM) – each VM has multiple processing cores (varies from 6-12) and large RAM (32-60GB), with about 200GB of local disk storage, coupled with multi-terabyte network storage.

eResearch SA also provides ongoing support through the maintenance of the computing facilities purchased. Dr Fordham said without access to the facilities provided by eResearch SA, the complexity of modelling wouldn’t have been possible. “Modelling species interactions and ecological responses to synergies of human impacts is very complex and consequently simulation models can take weeks to months to run even when spread across large numbers of multiple processes,” he said.

“You can try and run these models on a high-end laptop or desktop computer but the processing times are enormous, making the task impossible. “We have been able to develop novel, mechanistic modelling frameworks that allow conservation scientists to better connect predictions of extinction risk due to climate change to on-ground design and implementation of effective measures to protect biodiversity.

“I frequently use the eResearch SA supercomputer to investigate the likely effect of climate change and other human-mediated impacts on biodiversity and to test different climate adaption scenarios. These include developing models for rare and threatened birds, reptiles, mammals, plants and invertebrates.”

The world-leading research has developed techniques that are now being adopted by researchers across the globe. To highlight the complexity of the research, Dr Fordham used a recent example of modelling he did to investigate the combined effects of climate change, prey availability and management intervention on the persistence of the Iberian lynx, the world’s most threatened cat.

“Our approach was unique in that it explicitly modeled dynamic bi-trophic species interactions in a climate change setting,” he said.“We showed that anticipated climate change will rapidly and severely decrease lynx abundance and probably lead to its extinction in the wild within 50 years, even with strong global efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.“In contrast, we also showed that a carefully planned reintroduction program,accounting for the effects of climate change, prey abundance and habitat connectivity could avert extinction of the lynx this century.“Our results demonstrate, for the first time, why considering prey availability,climate change and their interaction in models is important when designing policies to prevent future biodiversity loss.”


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