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A guide to ecosystem models and their environmental applications


Geary, WL and Bode, M and Doherty, TS and Fulton, EA and Nimmo, DG and Tulloch, AIT and Tulloch, VJD and Ritchie, EG, A guide to ecosystem models and their environmental applications, Nature Ecology and Evolution, 4 pp. 1459-1471. ISSN 2397-334X (2020) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited 2020

DOI: doi:10.1038/s41559-020-01298-8


Applied ecology has traditionally approached management problems through a simplified, single-species lens. Repeated failures of single-species management have led us to a new paradigm managing at the ecosystem level. Ecosystem management involves a complex array of interacting organisms, processes and scientific disciplines. Accounting for interactions, feedback loops and dependencies between ecosystem components is therefore fundamental to understanding and managing ecosystems. We provide an overview of the main types of ecosystem models and their uses, and discuss challenges related to modelling complex ecological systems. Existing modelling approaches typically attempt to do one or more of the following: describe and disentangle ecosystem components and interactions; make predictions about future ecosystem states; and inform decision making by comparing alternative strategies and identifying important uncertainties. Modelling ecosystems is challenging, particularly when balancing the desire to represent many components of an ecosystem with the limitations of available data and the modelling objective. Explicitly considering different forms of uncertainty is therefore a primary concern. We provide some recommended strategies (such as ensemble ecosystem models and multi-model approaches) to aid the explicit consideration of uncertainty while also meeting the challenges of modelling ecosystems.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:ecosystem models
Research Division:Mathematical Sciences
Research Group:Applied mathematics
Research Field:Biological mathematics
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Other environmental management
Objective Field:Other environmental management not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Fulton, EA (Dr Elizabeth Fulton)
ID Code:143230
Year Published:2020
Web of Science® Times Cited:52
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2021-03-06
Last Modified:2022-08-20

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