Per Aspera ad Astra: Through Complex Population Modeling to Predictive Theory

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  • Christopher J. Topping
  • Hugo Fjelsted Alroe
  • Katharine N. Farrell, UAB, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Inst Environm Sci & Technol ICTA, Humboldt Univ, Humboldt University of Berlin, Albecht Daniel Thaer Inst Agr & Hort, Div Resource Econ
  • ,
  • Volker Grimm, German Ctr Integrat Biodivers Res iDiv

Population models in ecology are often not good at predictions, even if they are complex and seem to be realistic enough. The reason for this might be that Occam's razor, which is key for minimal models exploring ideas and concepts, has been too uncritically adopted for more realistic models of systems. This can tic models too closely to certain situations, thereby preventing them from predicting the response to new conditions. We therefore advocate a new kind of parsimony to improve the application of Occam's razor. This new parsimony balances two contrasting strategies for avoiding errors in modeling: avoiding inclusion of nonessential factors (false inclusions) and avoiding exclusion of sometimes-important factors (false exclusions). It involves a synthesis of traditional modeling and analysis, used to describe the essentials of mechanistic relationships, with elements that arc included in a model because they have been reported to be or can arguably be assumed to be important under certain conditions. The resulting models should be able to reflect how the internal organization of populations change and thereby generate representations of the novel behavior necessary for complex predictions, including regime shifts.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Pages (from-to)669-674
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015

    Research areas

  • complexity, error avoidance, agent-based models, model development, modest approach, INDIVIDUAL-BASED ECOLOGY, NARRATIVE EXPLANATION, DYNAMICS, MANAGEMENT, LESSONS, SCIENCE, PATTERN, ENERGY

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