02 March 2016

New modeling framework sheds light on forest ecology

Modeling forest dynamics is fundamental to the study of future changes in climate and biodiversity. A new modeling framework developed in collaboration with IIASA researchers facilitates investigations of complex vegetation dynamics.

 © Andrii Iarygin | Dreamstime.com

© Andrii Iarygin | Dreamstime.com

The modeling framework is implemented in a new software package that provides a comprehensive toolbox for researchers to investigate vegetation dynamics in forests. The package is unique in that it allows integrating dynamics across three different time scales: short-term physiological responses, medium-term alterations of the age and size structure of forests, and long-term evolutionary changes to the heritable traits that shape forests.

The software package, available freely, has now been introduced in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

“There is a large potential in using computer investigations to explore and understand the ecology and evolution of plant communities. Ultimately, such studies could shed light on how worldwide vegetation will respond to future climatic change, including effects on carbon cycling and biodiversity responses to changes in temperature and precipitation,” explains IIASA researcher Åke Brännström, who developed the modeling framework in collaboration with researchers in Australia and in the institute’s Evolution and Ecology Program (EEP). As EEP Director Ulf Dieckmann says, “The new framework provides one of the most comprehensive tools yet for understanding forest diversity and dynamics.”

“Our software makes it far easier for researchers to study adaptations in forests. Most crucial is the ability to estimate the ‘fitness’ of new plant types growing in competition with the established ones. Once you have a way to calculate fitness, you can start to understand how selection shapes and reshapes forest communities,” explains Daniel Falster, a researcher at Macquarie University in Australia, who led the study. Falster and his colleagues started developing the new framework through IIASA’s Young Scientists Summer Program.

The article is part of the British Ecological Society’s Cross-Journal Special Feature Demography Beyond the Population, in which six international scientific journals have collaborated to showcase “novel research across the vast arena of demography, illuminating the interdisciplinary nature of the field.” All articles in the special feature are freely available for a limited time.

More information: Methods in Ecology and Evolution Blog

Falster DS, FitzJohn RG, Brännström Å, Dieckmann U, Westoby M (2016). plant: A package for modelling forest trait ecology and evolution. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 7(2): 136–146. doi: 10.1111/2041-210X.12525

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Last edited: 02 March 2016


Ulf Dieckmann

Senior Research Scholar::

Exploratory Modeling Of Human-Natural Systems Research Group|Systemic Risk and Resilience Research Group|Cooperation and Transformative Governance Research Group

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