Online Computational Ecology

While computational ecologists often use desktop applications where they can customize algorithms, online tools are available. For example, simulations, modeling, and statistics applications may accept input via WWW forms. For example, the Spire project developed an online Food Web Constructor which predicts trophic interactions among a list of organisms using compiled food web data and taxonomic databases. A desktop application may access remote data resources and models, as in the SEAMLESS project.

Ecological computation may take advantage of grid computing to tackle large problems. A grid involves the development of independent but highly compatible services (and their hardware resources) and a way to mediate communication across these services. Thus a grid is a sophisticated application of the service-oriented architecture approach.

The Lifemapper project at University of Kansas is an example of a grid system used for computational ecology (Figure 6). Researchers wanted to use GARP (Genetic Algorithm Rule-Set Production) to model distributions for a large number of species using specimen data from museum databases and climate and other spatial data from a variety of sources. Lifemapper's grid included these distributed data sources and a large number of distributed personal computers whose owners agreed to donate unused processor time to the project. A central program coordinated the assignment of species and routing of appropriate data over the Internet to these remote computers. There, genetic algorithms were used to compute distribution maps which were then returned to the central server. Participants could watch the progress of the computation as a screensaver on their computer.

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