The mathematics of biodiversity


Venue   International Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Edinburgh. Public lecture, under the auspices of Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013, 15 October 2013.

Summary   The rapid decline in biodiversity now taking place is believed by some to be the start of one of the greatest mass extinctions in the history of life on earth. Taking action on this requires not only political will, but also sound methods for quantifying and reasoning about diversity — because without them, we risk channelling conservation funds in the wrong directions.

Diversity matters not only for trees, birds, and so on, but also for invisible life such as the bacteria that live in your gut, and for designing effective vaccines against different strains of viruses — where we humans tend to think of diversity as bad, not good. There are deep mathematical problems here, and solving them has involved some surprising branches of mathematics that are often seen as distant from any conceivable application.

Slides   In this pdf file.

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