Computer viruses help save Canada’s lakes

Watching computer viruses spread around the internet is helping biologists prevent invasions of non-native species in the Canadian wild.

Scientists at the University of Windsor, in Ontario, are using network theory to predict how the spiny water flea will spread through Canadian lakes.

The flea, native of Russia, spreads to new lakes via its eggs which attach themselves to anglers, their boats and trailers. Scientists Jim Muirhead and Professor Hugh MacIsaac believe that the spread will be quicker in areas where there is more human movement. Much in the same way that internet viruses spread quicker when attached to more popular emails.

Studying Ontario's Lake Muskoka, Muirhead and MacIsaac observed that it served as a central hub for infection of other lakes in Ontario.

"It quickly developed as a regional hub for two reasons," the pair said in an interview with the British Ecological Society. "First, its outbound traffic was to non-invaded lakes and second, the total amount of traffic leaving the source was high."

By studying the internet, and adapting its global network of computers to the network of lakes in Ontario, the scientists were able to link the spread of viruses to the spread of water fleas. They hope the research will help prevent further spread of the flea which could potentially kill-off thousands of species in Ontario's lakes.

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