Understanding the limits of what is possible and what is not in ecological systems

Twitter: @MIT_ecology

Our research program

The goal of the Structural Ecology Group is to understand and quantify the uncertainty (probability) associated with the persistence (or absence) of biological populations within multispecies communities under changing environments. This uncertainty comes from two main sources: the unknown exact equations governing the dynamics of a population’s interactions with other populations and abiotic factors, and how and when environmental variations can change these dynamics.

To assess this uncertainty, we adopt a new approach we call structural ecology - a systematic and probabilistic approach rooted on the notion of structural stability to study ecological dynamics. Formally, a dynamical system is said to be structurally stable if the topology of the phase portrait is preserved under smooth changes of the vector field. Because is virtually impossible to know a priori all the changing biotic and biotic factors affecting the dynamics of biological populations, it is then necessary to quantify from a probabilistic point of view the range of conditions compatible with their persistence. In this line, the group develops novel parametric and nonparametric methods to estimate such probabilities and to be able to understand and regulate the presence of biological populations under environmental change.