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A black swan event is a highly unlikely but massively consequential incident, such as the 2008 global recession and the loss of one-third of the world's saiga antelope in a matter of days in 2015. Challenging the quintessentially unpredictable nature of black swan events, bioengineers at Stanford University are suggesting a method for forecasting these supposedly unforeseeable fluctuations.

"By analyzing long-term data from three ecosystems, we were able to show that fluctuations that happen in different biological species are statistically the same across different ecosystems," said Samuel Bray, a research assistant in the lab of Bo Wang, assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford. "That suggests there are certain underlying universal processes that we can take advantage of in order to forecast this kind of extreme behavior."

The forecasting method the researchers have developed, which was detailed recently in PLOS Computational Biology, is based on and could find use in health care and environmental research. It also has potential applications in disciplines outside ecology that have their own black swan events, such as economics and politics.

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Category: Science