Dragonfly is such a great organisation to work with. They work very efficiently and we always get a fantastic product out of it.

Dr Olaf Jensen, Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences

Statistical modelling for working out who's eating who

Figuring out predator-prey relationships (or who’s eating who) in a marine ecosystem is fundamental for understanding ecosystems, and is increasingly recognised as an important aspect of managing fisheries. Knowing how strong the interactions between different species are, can be helpful in deciding how much of a predator or prey species can be harvested without adversely affecting the other.

Creating a new model

Two complementary chemical analyses (stable isotope and fatty acid analysis) are commonly used in marine biology to decipher the relationships between different species in a food web. Until now, the analyses could only be used separately, but we developed a new statistical method that enables them to be used together. The combination of the methods is very powerful, showing situations where the two analyses match up, differ, or where data is lacking.

Open to everyone

After developing the model and publishing the method as a scientific paper, we released it as an open source software package. By adding documentation and creating a simple package, we made the software accessible to any marine scientist without them needing to be familiar with programming. The Jensen lab is able to continue to develop and modify the software, as required.

Read the paper at PeerJ, or download the FastinR software from GitHub.

Better analysis leads to new research

The new model has enabled the Jensen lab to look into new research problems. These include interactions between marlin and the sardine fishery off the coast of Baja California and the ongoing effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on affected ecosystems, where the lab has set out to study an entire food web in the Gulf of Mexico using this tool.

New laboratory techniques create new data streams, so interpreting that data is the next challenge. That’s a place where Dragonfly really shines. They understand how to translate ecology into mathematical models, then package that model so others can use it.

The ability to package a model so it’s easily transferable to other researchers is very new for my lab, and very exciting. Making models into a public resource really extends the impact and the reach of our research.

Based on past experience, when I’m looking at new projects with a link to developing new quantitative tools like this, I always think of Dragonfly because they are such a great organisation to work with. We have a really valuable collaboration, which I plan to continue.

Dr Olaf Jensen
Assistant Professor
Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences
Rutgers University
New Jersey
United States of America