60-Second Science

Predator-Prey Equations Govern Gang Territories

The Lotka-Volterra equations describe population dynamics between competing species. Criminologists have now shown they also describe gang turf boundary formation and violence hot spots. Evelyn Lamb reports

The same mathematical models used to study the hunting range of lions have many other applications—they describe the flight patterns of honeybees. And now researchers say these math models can help explain the stability of gang territories and patterns of between-gang violence. The work is in the journal Criminology. [Jeffrey Brantingham et al., "The Ecology of Gang Territorial Boundaries"]

Researchers used the models to draw new maps of gang territories in East L.A. What are known as the competitive Lotka-Volterra equations describe population dynamics between species competing for resources. They take into account the effect each population has on the other.

The researchers generated maps of gang territories using the Lotka-Volterra equations rather than police reports or urban geographical features. After creating maps, researchers analyzed data about between-gang shootings and found that violence clusters along the gang boundaries predicted by their model.

The researchers think that their work also demonstrates that a gang’s turf forms in part based on competitive interactions with other gangs. The hope is that understanding patterns of between-gang violence can help police prevent more of it.

—Evelyn Lamb

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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