Biological organisms are linked to one another through genetic relatedness, behavioral interactions and communication. They eat one another and compete with one another and cooperate with one another and in doing so, their fates become linked. While there are countless individual interactions every day in nature, these interactions don’t add up to chaos, but settle into networked patterns that show similar patterns at all different levels of nature. The interactions of proteins in a yeast cell can be mapped in a similar way to the interactions of social insects and the interactions of many different species in a ecosystem.
Not surprisingly, since we ourselves are a social biological organism, human networks show similar patterns to all types of biological networks. Individual businesses in a given industry, terror cells within a radical organization, and the billions of people using social networks reveal characteristic patterns in how links are formed and maintained, and in what happens to networks when key elements are removed.
We can use the known properties of biological networks to analyze networks in our own lives and understand how they might respond to change, or how we might make them more resilient to change. Biologist Ferenc Jordan has used the same type of network analyses he uses to track changes in insect colonies and social networks of school children to uncover the strategies of terrorists in selecting their targets. Ecologist Eric Berlow has shown how the same models used to study linked food webs in the Sierra Nevada mountains can massively simplify even the most complex situations, such as military strategy in Afghanistan. Now market forecasters are using network science to provide early warnings of financial collapse by identifying those businesses that are “too connected to fail”.