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Ecological and Social Dynamics in Simple Models of Ecosystem Management

Stephen R Carpenter, University of Wisconsin-Madison
William Brock, University of Wisconsin
Paul Hanson, University of Wisconsin


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Simulation models were developed to explore and illustrate dynamics of socioecological systems. The ecosystem is a lake subject to phosphorus pollution. Phosphorus flows from agriculture to upland soils, to surface waters, where it cycles between water and sediments. The ecosystem is multistable, and moves among domains of attraction depending on the history of pollutant inputs. The alternative states yield different economic benefits. Agents form expectations about ecosystem dynamics, markets, and/or the actions of managers, and choose levels of pollutant inputs accordingly. Agents have heterogeneous beliefs and/or access to information. Their aggregate behavior determines the total rate of pollutant input. As the ecosystem changes, agents update their beliefs and expectations about the world they co-create, and modify their actions accordingly. For a wide range of scenarios, we observe irregular oscillations among ecosystem states and patterns of agent behavior. These oscillations resemble some features of the adaptive cycle of panarchy theory.

Key words

adaptive agent models, adaptive management, bounded rationality, ecological economics, ecosystem oscillations, integrated models, lake eutrophication, nonpoint pollution, phosphorus cycles, simulation models, social-natural systems.

Copyright © 1999 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087