Systems Analysis, Integrated Assessment and Modelling
In SIAM, we develop and apply models and formal techniques in order to understand, demonstrate, and predict the behavior of natural, technical, social and economical systems that pertain to water and other natural resources. Read more
Characterizing fast herbicide transport in a small agricultural catchment with conceptual models
Herbicide pollution in headwater streams due to agricultural practices is a major environmental concern and is characterized by episodic peak concentrations from fast transport paths. We rely on previous experimental studies in a small (1.2km2) agricultural catchment in the Swiss Plateau, to model dynamic diffuse herbicide pollution with emphasis on fast transport paths in a conceptual modelling framework at the catchment scale. We show how experimentalists’ understanding of the fate of herbicides (perceptual model) can be translated into conceptual models considering sorption, degradation, and fast transport of water and chemicals facilitated by impervious surfaces, tile drains and artificial shortcuts. Different types of experimental data (streamflow, high-frequency concentration measurements, and soil–water distribution coefficients) are used in a joint Bayesian inference of model parameters. We assess the ability of different spatial configurations of hydrological response units in explaining observed heterogeneity in transport behaviour of two corn herbicides. Thereby, we find that (1) relatively simple conceptual models can provide a realistic description of herbicide fate in small agricultural catchments, (2) accounting for spray drift onto hard surfaces is necessary to avoid a severe model bias during the first rainfall event after application, and (3) including catchment-specific experimentalist knowledge about important elements like artificial shortcuts and tile drains leads to a reduction in uncertainty of 30% compared to the more conventional conception of the proximity to the stream as the dominant risk factor.
China's food supply sources under trade conflict with the United States and limited domestic land and water resources
The U.S.‐China trade conflict has already considerably reshaped China's food imports, and should the conflict continue, it might have substantial impacts on global food supply dynamics as well as China's food supply sources. We address these implications by analyzing recent trends in China's food imports and associated use of land and water resources. We show that China's limited land and water availability will make it challenging to replace soybean imports from the United States with its own production, but switching to new trading partners by investment and cooperation could secure China's food supply while avoiding much negative environmental impacts on exporting countries.
Liu, W.; Yang, H.; Ciais, P.; Kummu, M.; Hoekstra, A. Y. (2020) China's food supply sources under trade conflict with the United States and limited domestic land and water resources, Earth's Future, 8(3), e2020EF001482 (7 pp.), doi:10.1029/2020EF001482, Institutional Repository
Integrating uncertain prior knowledge regarding ecological preferences into multi-species distribution models: effects of model complexity on predictive performance
Species distribution models (SDMs) are often criticised for lacking explicit linkage to ecological concepts. We aim to improve the ecological basis of SDMs by integrating prior knowledge about ecological preferences of organisms. Additionally, we aim to support a systematic, data-driven review of such prior knowledge by confronting it with independent monitoring data using Bayesian inference. We developed a series of multi-species distribution models (MSDMs) with increasing complexity to predict the probability of occurrence of taxa at sampling sites based on habitat suitability functions that are parameterized with prior ecological knowledge. We subsequently assessed the models` predictive performance with 3-fold cross-validation. So far, if ecological preferences or functional traits have been used in SDMs, they were mainly used as fixed inputs without considering their uncertainty. We take the additional step of considering uncertainty about preference parameters by including them as uncertain prior information that is subsequently updated with Bayesian inference. We apply the series of models in a case study on macroinvertebrates in Swiss streams. We analyse differences in the quality of fit, changes in predictive performance, and the potential to learn about the parameters from the data. We consider ecological preferences for natural and human modified environmental factors including temperature, flow velocity, organic matter concentration, insecticide pollution, and substratum. Results indicate that updating prior knowledge on ecological preferences with Bayesian inference, rather than using it as fixed input, improves model fit and predictive performance. For example, the predictive performance measured by the deviance for validation data improves by 17 % and the explanatory power increases 3.8 times from a model that treats ecological preferences as fixed scores to a model that treats them as uncertain parameters. The spatial distribution of many taxa, including rare taxa with frequencies of occurrence down to about 5 %, which are difficult to model with SDMs that do not consider prior information, can be captured by the new models. Integrating prior knowledge as uncertain parameters in a Bayesian framework establishes ecological interpretable links between taxa and their environment and supports a systematic revision and complementation of databases on ecological preferences, even in case of poor or missing prior knowledge. Model outputs need to be carefully interpreted by modellers and experts on ecological preferences. Increased exchange between these research fields will benefit further integration of ecological preferences into SDMs.
Vermeiren, P.; Reichert, P.; Schuwirth, N. (2020) Integrating uncertain prior knowledge regarding ecological preferences into multi-species distribution models: effects of model complexity on predictive performance, Ecological Modelling, 420, 108956 (15 pp.), doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2020.108956, Institutional Repository
How to make ecological models useful for environmental management
Understanding and predicting the ecological consequences of different management alternatives is becoming increasingly important to support environmental management decisions. Ecological models could contribute to such predictions, but in the past this was often not the case. Ecological models are often developed within research projects but are rarely used for practical applications. In this synthesis paper, we discuss how to strengthen the role of ecological modeling in supporting environmental management decisions with a focus on methodological aspects. We address mainly ecological modellers but also potential users of modeling results. Various modeling approaches can be used to predict the response of ecosystems to anthropogenic interventions, including mechanistic models, statistical models, and machine learning approaches. Regardless of the chosen approach, we outline how to better align the modeling to the decision making process, and identify six requirements that we believe are important to increase the usefulness of ecological models for management support, especially if management decisions need to be justified to the public. These cover: (i) a mechanistic understanding regarding causality, (ii) alignment of model input and output with the management decision, (iii) appropriate spatial and temporal resolutions, (iv) uncertainty quantification, (v) sufficient predictive performance, and (vi) transparent communication. We discuss challenges and synthesize suggestions for addressing these points.
Schuwirth, N.; Borgwardt, F.; Domisch, S.; Friedrichs, M.; Kattwinkel, M.; Kneis, D.; Kuemmerlen, M.; Langhans, S. D.; Martínez-López, J.; Vermeiren, P. (2019) How to make ecological models useful for environmental management, Ecological Modelling, 411, 108784 (14 pp.), doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2019.108784, Institutional Repository
From individual to joint species distribution models: a comparison of model complexity and predictive performance
Aim: Species distribution models (SDMs) are widely used to study geographic distributions of taxa in response to natural and anthropogenic environmental conditions. For a community, common approaches include fitting individual SDMs (iSDMs) to all taxa or directly modelling community properties such as richness. However, the parameters of iSDMs are difficult to identify for rare taxa, and community properties do not reveal taxon‐specific responses. Individual models can be combined into a hierarchical multispecies distribution model (mSDM) that constrains taxon‐specific parameters according to overarching community parameters, or a joint model (jSDM) in which interdependencies between taxa are jointly inferred. We compare how individual, hierarchical multispecies and joint SDMs differ in quality of fit, explanatory power and predictive performance, and analyse how these properties depend on the prevalence of taxa. Taxa: Presence–absence observations of 245 benthic macroinvertebrate taxa identified at a mixed taxonomic resolution. Location: Four hundred and ninety‐two sites in rivers throughout Switzerland. Methods: Individual, hierarchical and joint hierarchical generalized linear models (GLM) were developed for all taxa. Parameters were estimated using maximum likelihood estimation or Bayesian inference with Hamiltonian Markov chain Monte Carlo simulations. Predictive performance was assessed with cross‐validation. In addition, the predicted family and species richness of the models was compared with a GLM for richness. Results: Individual models show a slightly higher quality of fit largely due to overfitting for rare taxa. The mSDM achieves a similar quality of fit and explanatory power, mitigates overfitting for rare taxa and considerably improves predictive performance over the whole community. The joint models further improve the quality of fit, but decrease predictive performance and increase predictive uncertainty. Main conclusions: We show that even a relatively simple mSDM combines many of the analytical capabilities of iSDMs and improves predictive performance. Increasingly complex mSDMs and jSDMs provide additional analytical possibilities, but depending on the data and research questions, different levels of complexity may be appropriate.
Caradima, B.; Schuwirth, N.; Reichert, P. (2019) From individual to joint species distribution models: a comparison of model complexity and predictive performance, Journal of Biogeography, 46(10), 2260-2274, doi:10.1111/jbi.13668, Institutional Repository
Since spring 2018, the newly developed underwater camera Aquascope has been recording a wide variety of plankton species in Lake Greifen. These sensitive organisms can thus, for the first time, be observed undisturbed in their natural habitat – an important step towards automated monitoring of water quality and aquatic biodiversity.