Athens, Ga. – For researchers around the world trying to understand how ecological systems function, a web-based tool developed by a University of Georgia faculty member is making life a whole lot easier. EcoNet, developed by Caner Kazanci of the UGA Faculty of Engineering, combines network analysis with dynamic simulation in an easy-to-use web interface that allows ecological researchers to experiment with system-wide modeling theories.
EcoNet (http://eco.engr.uga.edu) is available freely and requires no downloads or specialized mathematical expertise. The program has opened a vast world of ecological systems expertise developed at UGA over the last thirty years to ecologists from more than 50 countries.
“What you’re trying to do is create a small version of real life, with its feedbacks and cycles, on a computer,” says Kazanci, a native of Turkey (whose full name is pronounced Jah-ner Kazanji).
The simplicity of EcoNet makes it unique among the many varieties of modeling software. EcoNet requires only Internet connectivity; users can simply write their models in text and run them through the program, even to a cell phone.
The backbone of the modeling software was developed by Kazanci at Carnegie Mellon University, while he was working on his PhD. “We were trying to model large biochemical networks in 2001, trying to understand all the complexities surrounding buzzwords like systems biology,” he relates. In pursuit of understanding how interacting identities function, a search for the appropriate software turned up nothing. Kazanci set about writing the libraries and the code for new software, with little specialized computer knowledge.
It was when he arrived at UGA in 2005, in a joint appointment between the Faculty of Engineering and the Department of Mathematics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, that Kazanci began to learn about ecology. As part of the systems engineering and ecology research group, his work reflected the network-wide properties that grew out of the work of Eugene Odum to create a simple user interface for ecologists.
“UGA has long been at the forefront in ecology and that gives our engineering programs a critical boost – as well as an ongoing impetus to lead,” said Dale Threadgill, director of the UGA Faculty of Engineering. “EcoNet is an extremely valuable component of this nexus between research and service at the university, and it’s a major contribution from one of our innovative junior faculty.”
“EcoNet does three things by powerful, efficient and up-to-date computational methods,” says Bernard C. Patten, Regents’ Professor in the Institute of Ecology at UGA, upon whose work much of the network of analysis in EcoNet is based. “It simulates, with several options, the dynamic behavior of models described by ordinary differential equations; it prepares digraph (directed graph) depictions of these models; and it computes the main measures of the models’ properties given by Network Environ Analysis, a set of input-output methods implementing a mathematical theory of environment developed at UGA over the past thirty-plus years.”
Network-wide properties are increasingly relevant to a variety of research areas, from protein networks to neural networks to gene networks. Knowledge gained about how these systems function and respond to perturbations through dynamic modeling is bringing scientists closer to solutions for complex problems.
The UGA Faculty of Engineering was established in 2001 to advance comprehensive engineering at the University of Georgia. With more than 100 members from twenty-four departments in nine schools and colleges across campus, the Faculty of Engineering provides an entrepreneurial setting for engineering academic programs in the unique environment of UGA. For more information, visit www.engineering.uga.edu.