Journal Article

Leaps of Faith: How Implicit Assumptions Compromise the Utility of Ecosystem Models for Decision-making

Edward J. Gregr and Kai M.A. Chan

in BioScience

Volume 65, issue 1, pages 43-54
Published in print January 2015 | ISSN: 0006-3568
Published online December 2014 | e-ISSN: 1525-3244 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biu185
Leaps of Faith: How Implicit Assumptions Compromise the Utility of Ecosystem Models for Decision-making

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Ecological forecasts are increasingly seen as central to integrated management. However, to use such predictions, decision-makers require some understanding of how likely the forecasts are—or at least how likely one is over another. This cannot be achieved without considering model assumptions and their associated uncertainties. To illustrate, we first reviewed the theoretical aspects of model design and uncertainty, focusing on the role of assumptions. We then examined how the most popular articles on social–ecological models of marine systems reflect these modeling fundamentals. Of the articles reviewed, over half left design assumptions entirely implicit, and 60% effectively ignored uncertainty. This is a fundamental barrier to the use of such models for decision-making and to the broader goal of linking social and ecological models. These consequences and the suggestions offered to mitigate current faith-based interpretations of ecological forecasts are salient to anyone creating or using such predictions to support integrated management decisions.

Keywords: Model design; uncertainty; complexity; social–ecological models; habitat suitability

Journal Article.  8006 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Environmental Science ; Biological Sciences ; Environment

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