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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: February 2021

4 - Five Decades of Modeling Supporting the Systems Ecology Paradigm


Ecosystem modeling, a pillar of the systems ecology paradigm (SEP), addresses questions such as, how much carbon and nitrogen are cycled within ecological sites, landscapes, or indeed the earth system? Or how are human activities modifying these flows? Modeling, when coupled with field and laboratory studies, represents the essence of the SEP in that they embody accumulated knowledge and generate hypotheses to test understanding of ecosystem processes and behavior. Initially, ecosystem models were primarily used to improve our understanding about how biophysical aspects of ecosystems operate. However, current ecosystem models are widely used to make accurate predictions about how large-scale phenomena such as climate change and management practices impact ecosystem dynamics and assess potential effects of these changes on economic activity and policy making. In sum, ecosystem models embedded in the SEP remain our best mechanism to integrate diverse types of knowledge regarding how the earth system functions and to make quantitative predictions that can be confronted with observations of reality. Modeling efforts discussed are the Century ecosystem model, DayCent ecosystem model, Grassland Ecosystem Model ELM, food web models, Savanna model, agent-based and coupled systems modeling, and Bayesian modeling.