New paper: "Agent-based modelling of socio-ecological systems: Models, projects and ontologies"

In Ecological Complexity (online first). This is an overview of the need for simulating Socio-Ecological systems in a truly integrated manner and discusses some of the methodological issues that arise from doing so. Includes discussion on the necessity of multiple models at times and the possible role of ontologies in helping to deal with model complexity. Available at:

by Nicholas M.Gotts, George A.K.van Voorn, J. Gareth Polhill, Eline de Jong, Bruce Edmonds, Gert Jan Hofstede & Ruth Meyer


  • Socio-ecological system (SES) has underemphasised the social aspect of these systems.
  • SESs show kinds of complexity which ecosystems considered alone lack; specifically, agents able to perceive and attempt to change global system features.
  • The choice of modelling approach is not determined solely by the system modelled; multiple models may be required, so modellers should think in terms of modelling projects which may also encompass multiple SESs.
  • Agent-based modelling is an essential component of models which aim to advance understanding of SESs, due to agent-based models expressivity.
  • However, this very expressivity raises problems of its own. Formal ontologies can help to deal with these problems in several ways, notably by improving model transparency.


Socio-Ecological Systems (SESs) are the systems in which our everyday lives are embedded, so understanding them is important. The complex properties of such systems make modelling an indispensable tool for their description and analysis. Human actors play a pivotal role in SESs, but their interactions with each other and their environment are often underrepresented in SES modelling. We argue that more attention should be given to social aspects in models of SESs, but this entails additional kinds of complexity. Modelling choices need to be as transparent as possible, and to be based on analysis of the purposes and limitations of modelling. We recommend thinking in terms of modelling projects rather than single models. Such a project may involve multiple models adopting different modelling methods. We argue that agent-based models (ABMs) are an essential tool in an SES modelling project, but their expressivity, which is their major advantage, also produces problems with model transparency and validation. We propose the use of formal ontologies to make the structure and meaning of models as explicit as possible, facilitating model design, implementation, assessment, comparison and extension.

Gotts, N.M., van Voorn, G.A.K., Polhill, J.G., de Jong, E., Edmonds, B,. Hofstede, G.J., & Meyer, R. (2018) Agent-based modelling of socio-ecological systems: Models, projects and ontologies. Ecological Complexity, DOI: 10.1016/j.ecocom.2018.07.007

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