The first General Ecosystem Model is released

In a paper released today, scientists at UNEP-WCMC and Microsoft Research describe the world’s first General Ecosystem Model that attempts to simulate all life on earth – both on land and in the ocean.

The team behind this pioneering initiative identified the fundamental ecological processes that affect all species and encoded them into a mathematical model which they call the Madingley Model.

This offers decision makers an interactive tool to explore the impacts of their decisions on ecosystems, analogous to the way General Circulation Models allow analysis of the impacts of human activities on the climate system.

This new generation of model will help governments, companies and scientists explore key environmental issues, by modelling the effects of human pressures – such as the introduction of invasive species – on ecosystem health and function. The model also identifies the risks to the services that ecosystems provide to humans, and which underpin our food and water supplies, and climate regulation. It is the first example of a model that can be applied to any ecosystem, at any spatial scale, and to any organism.

To test the model, the team assessed whether the model’s predictions agreed with patterns seen in real-world ecosystems. Based on the results, the team believe that they can now use this approach to begin modelling all life on earth and so predict the ecological implications of human activity on the planet.

After three years of development, the Madingley Model is being released as open source code to allow others to inspect the model or develop it further.

Publication information
Harfoot, M.B.J., Newbold, T., Tittensor, D.P., Emmott, S., Hutton, J., Lyutsarev, V., Smith, M.J., Scharlemann, J.P.W. & Purves, D.W. (2014) Emergent global patterns of ecosystem structure and function from a mechanistic General Ecosystem Model, PLoS Biology, doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001841