NewsComputational Biology

Virtual Hot Spots

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Science  13 Apr 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6078, pp. 172-174
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6078.172

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Temperature constraints affect the survival of individual animals, specific populations, and even whole species. Such knowledge has become increasingly important given the threat of climate change. While some researchers compare historical and current records to assess how warming might affect the range of a species, modelers make predictions in silico. For every hour they work at the computer running a model, researchers may spend days in the field taking measurements to validate or refute their virtual animal. Early versions of animal models needed many simplifying assumptions and straightforward scenarios to make them computationally tractable. But researchers can now incorporate many more details, making simulations much more realistic and meaningful. The models still have their skeptics; all models make assumptions, each of which can introduce inaccuracies that some argue add up to be significant. But more decision-makers are making use of them.