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Making cities naturally immune to supply chain shocks

Ecosystems run parallel to U.S. supply chains

Scientists are studying how natural ecosystems parallel America’s supply chains.

July 21, 2021

A new article published inNatureexposes how natural ecosystems parallel U.S. supply chains and how U.S. cities can use the information to strengthen supply chains.

The article is co-authored by Benjamin Ruddell, director of the FEWSION project at Northern Arizona University and his colleagues. FEWSION is a United States National Science Foundation– a funded collaboration that uses comprehensive data mapping to monitor national supply chains with a focus on food, energy and water down to the county level.

Manish Parashar, director of NSF’s Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure, said the project “is a good example of NSF research investment: a multidisciplinary, multi-academic team combining data science research, nature-inspired design and scientific visualization with education, to answer an important and timely question that can improve the resilience of US supply chain policy. “

Research examines the importance of diversity within the supply chain, which helps reduce damaging disruption from supply chain shocks. Supply chains function much like food webs in natural ecosystems, in which biodiversity allows to adapt during disturbances. The analogy has proven to be very insightful, Ruddell said, particularly when examining “black swan” events, which are unpredictable and difficult to protect – and for which adaptation, not prevention, is the main defense. .

“This is why ecological theory is so important – if we have diverse supply chains that mimic ecological systems, they can more easily adapt to unpredictable shocks,” said Ruddell. “We can use this nature-inspired design to create more resilient supply chains.”

The study examined historical data on food flows in U.S. cities, asking whether the diversity of a city’s food supply chain explains the resilience of the city’s food supply to shocks. The results show that the diversity of a city’s supply chain explains more than 90% of the intensity, duration and frequency of food supply shocks historically seen in American cities.

The model worked regardless of the cause of the shock, which Ruddell says is both deep and practical.

“We now have a simple and effective mathematical basis for policies aimed at strengthening the resilience of a city’s supply chain,” he said. “The coming years will reveal how valid this conclusion is for other types of supply chains. Does this apply to households? The Nations ? Electricity? Telecommunications?

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