Institutionalized model-making: Mobilizing knowledge resources for complex ecological systems research
Ecological modeling has become a robust activity and is especially represented by ISEM (International Society of Ecological Modelling) and Ecological Modelling, the leading journal in Elsevier's roster of many major journals. Models are formally defined as homomorphic (many-to-one) mappings of some aspects of reality of interest into some representational system for specifiable purposes. "Many-to-one" means models are smaller and less detailed than the actual systems they represent. Concrete models, like those of ships or airplanes, and abstract mathematical models, like Lotka-Volterra population equations, compartment models, and "IBM's" (individual-based models), all fit this definition. Computer assisted modeling is now available in many software packages.
Models are often said to be hypotheses, and they are in the sense that they allow an observer's sense of phenomena of interest to be not only represented, but also operationally expressed and manipulated in "what if" experimental trials designed for understanding and prediction. In that sense, models and model-making can be seen as "beyond hypothesis testing" but still very much in the vein of hypothesis testing.
Four aspects of models will be developed and demonstrated with audience participation: (1) Conceptual modeling: a small compartment model will be formulated to show how model building is insight building and also (when collective) team building. (2) Simulation modeling: the conceptual model will be expanded to form an ecological simulation model, which will be used to mimic nominal (reference) and perturbed (sensitivity analysis) system dynamics for understanding and prediction. (3) Systems analysis: the ecological model will be analyzed to expose relationships underlying the simulation results. (4) Institutionalized Model-Making: scaling up the foregoing activities to fit organizations with environmental research, management, or policy-making responsibilities will be discussed. Ecological modeling is the principal tool currently in the ecologist's toolbox that can take understanding beyond empirical description.