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Tackling Biocomplexity with Meta-models for Species Risk Assessment

Philip J. Nyhus, Environmental Studies Program, Colby College
Robert Lacy, Chicago Zoological Society
Frances R Westley, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Philip Miller, Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (SSC/IUCN)
Harrie Vredenburg, Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary
Paul Paquet, Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Calgary
John Pollak, Visual Biosystems


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We describe results of a multi-year effort to strengthen consideration of the human dimension into endangered species risk assessments and to strengthen research capacity to understand biodiversity risk assessment in the context of coupled human-natural systems. A core group of social and biological scientists have worked with a network of more than 50 individuals from four countries to develop a conceptual framework illustrating how human-mediated processes influence biological systems and to develop tools to gather, translate, and incorporate these data into existing simulation models. A central theme of our research focused on (1) the difficulties often encountered in identifying and securing diverse bodies of expertise and information that is necessary to adequately address complex species conservation issues; and (2) the development of quantitative simulation modeling tools that could explicitly link these datasets as a way to gain deeper insight into these issues. To address these important challenges, we promote a “meta-modeling” approach where computational links are constructed between discipline-specific models already in existence. In this approach, each model can function as a powerful stand-alone program, but interaction between applications is achieved by passing data structures describing the state of the system between programs. As one example of this concept, an integrated meta-model of wildlife disease and population biology is described. A goal of this effort is to improve science-based capabilities for decision making by scientists, natural resource managers, and policy makers addressing environmental problems in general, and focusing on biodiversity risk assessment in particular.

Key words

biocomplexity; endangered species; human dimension; meta-model; population viability analysis; risk assessment; VORTEX.

Copyright © 2007 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work 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