The pitfalls of ecological forecasting

Oliver, Tom H.; Roy, David B.. 2015 The pitfalls of ecological forecasting [in special issue: Fifty years of the Biological Records Centre] Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 115 (3). 767-778.

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Ecological forecasting is difficult but essential, because reactive management results in corrective actions that are often too late to avert significant environmental damage. Here, we appraise different forecasting methods with a particular focus on the modelling of species populations. We show how simple extrapolation of current trends in state is often inadequate because environmental drivers change in intensity over time and new drivers emerge. However, statistical models, incorporating relationships with drivers, simply offset the prediction problem, requiring us to forecast how the drivers will themselves change over time. Some authors approach this problem by focusing in detail on a single driver, whilst others use ‘storyline’ scenarios, which consider projected changes in a wide range of different drivers. We explain why both approaches are problematic and identify a compromise to model key drivers and interactions along with possible response options to help inform environmental management. We also highlight the crucial role of validation of forecasts using independent data. Although these issues are relevant for all types of ecological forecasting, we provide examples based on forecasts for populations of UK butterflies. We show how a high goodness-of-fit for models used to calibrate data is not sufficient for good forecasting. Long-term biological recording schemes rather than experiments will often provide data for ecological forecasting and validation because these schemes allow capture of landscape-scale land-use effects and their interactions with other drivers.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Pywell
ISSN: 0024-4066
Additional Keywords: butterfly monitoring, density dependence, environmental drivers, prediction, predictive modelling, weather
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 08 Feb 2016 11:56 +0 (UTC)

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