Mathematical modelling and simulation play an important role in acquiring a detailed understanding of complex ecological and social-ecological systems. This includes the analysis of current characteristics and driving processes, the application to hypothetical situations (scenarios) and the extrapolation for potential future situations. The working group focuses on the analysis of actors' reactions to environmental situations and interaction with other actors in a spatial context. A sufficiently detailed description of an actor allows to determine how their behaviour and development affects the self-organisation and the emergence of community structure and dynamics within a given (eco)system.
The methodological focus is on individual/agent-based modelling (IBM/ABM) which simulates the global characteristics of dynamic systems on the basis of interacting system components. IBM offer a structurally unique and unifying approach in ecology which enables to link quantitative and qualitative aspects across different hierarchical levels. The representation of complex ecological systems is facilitated by simulating low-level components allowing a self-organising structure and system dynamics. Cause-effect chains and feedback networks may thus be analysed with respect to the contribution of particular factors and processes to overall system dynamics. Consideration of variability in interaction structure and spatial heterogeneity, rare events, and the inclusion of detailed ecological knowledge extends the range and scope of processes combined in ecological models. The use of IBM as an integrative modelling framework thus has the potential to address a large number of questions that have not been accessible to the same extent before.
Model development aims at analysing the relative role of changing environmental factors, anthropogenic impact and habitat structure on reef development. The model shall be used to extrapolate reef trajectories under different scenarios of environmental pressure and human impact and compare reefs in different regions. Currently the generic model is developed in close cooperation with the Institute of Marine Sciences, Zanzibar.
The projects intend to establish a tool for analysing the relationship of social networks, livelihood options and sustainable use of coastal resources on respective ecological systems. Currently projects relate to the management of coral reefs to ensure sustainable use (Indonesia) and analysis of tourism impact (Thailand).
Connectivity between coastal habitats may strengthen positive effects of each single habitat, increase resilience against disturbances and thus may contribute to the management of sustainable use by coastal inhabitants. Modelling and spatial analysis contribute to the knowledge on interacting processes in different habitats and lead to recommendations for MPA design and management of spatial development.
The project will establish a modelling framework which allows to test hypotheses of how the trophic structure of ecological communities is determined by the properties of lower organisational levels such as populations and organisms. A central research focus is the theoretical understanding of system functioning with respect to trophic interactions, energy flows, life-history of involved species and the dynamics of the main components on different spatio-temporal scales.
Projects under this topic relate to the development of modelling methodologies. In particular they concentrate on (1) how the various elements on different organisation levels interrelate and interact with each other across scales, (2) on different approaches for the validation of IBM/ABM and (3) on teaching and capacity building in ecological modelling (e.g. the text book Modelling Complex Ecological Dynamics, Springer 2011).