Simulating social-ecological systems: the Island Digital Ecosystem Avatars (IDEA) consortium
- Neil Davies1, 2, 3Email authorView ORCID ID profile,
- Dawn Field2,
- David Gavaghan4,
- Sally J. Holbrook5,
- Serge Planes6,
- Matthias Troyer7Email author,
- Michael Bonsall2,
- Joachim Claudet6,
- George Roderick8,
- Russell J. Schmitt5,
- Linda Amaral Zettler9,
- Véronique Berteaux6,
- Hervé C. Bossin10,
- Charlotte Cabasse3,
- Antoine Collin11,
- John Deck12,
- Tony Dell13,
- Jennifer Dunne14,
- Ruth Gates15,
- Mike Harfoot16,
- James L. Hench17,
- Marania Hopuare18,
- Patrick Kirch19,
- Georgios Kotoulas20,
- Alex Kosenkov7,
- Alex Kusenko21,
- James J. Leichter22,
- Hunter Lenihan23,
- Antonios Magoulas20,
- Neo Martinez24, 25,
- Chris Meyer26,
- Benoit Stoll18,
- Billie Swalla27,
- Daniel M. Tartakovsky28,
- Hinano Teavai Murphy29,
- Slava Turyshev30, 31,
- Fernanda Valdvinos24,
- Rich Williams32,
- Spencer Wood33 and
- IDEA Consortium34, 35
© Davies et al. 2016
Received: 12 December 2015
Accepted: 21 February 2016
Published: 17 March 2016
Systems biology promises to revolutionize medicine, yet human wellbeing is also inherently linked to healthy societies and environments (sustainability). The IDEA Consortium is a systems ecology open science initiative to conduct the basic scientific research needed to build use-oriented simulations (avatars) of entire social-ecological systems. Islands are the most scientifically tractable places for these studies and we begin with one of the best known: Moorea, French Polynesia. The Moorea IDEA will be a sustainability simulator modeling links and feedbacks between climate, environment, biodiversity, and human activities across a coupled marine–terrestrial landscape. As a model system, the resulting knowledge and tools will improve our ability to predict human and natural change on Moorea and elsewhere at scales relevant to management/conservation actions.
KeywordsComputational ecology Biodiversity Genomics Biocode Earth observations Social-ecological system Ecosystem dynamics Climate change scenarios Predictive modeling
High-throughput data collection techniques and large-scale computing are transforming our understanding of ecosystems, making convergent scientific frameworks a research priority . As human activities increasingly impact ecosystem processes, we need new approaches that focus on how whole communities of organisms interact with people and the physical environment at the scale of landscapes or catchments . This requires an e-infrastructure for data intensive science that enables the integration of computational physics, chemistry, biology, ecology, economics and other social sciences. Such an advance would allow researchers to (1) characterize the multidisciplinary functional attributes of social-ecological systems; (2) quantify the relationships between those functional attributes under historic and current conditions; and (3) model the trajectories of goods and services under a range of policy-driven scenarios and future environmental conditions. The resulting knowledge would improve our ability to predict human and natural change at scales relevant to management/conservation actions.
Unlike some aspects of climate change, processes related to biodiversity and ecosystem services are “typically place-based and many of the effects are seen at sub-global scales” . Inspired by successes in modeling complex systems at other scales of organization, notably the cell , the Island Digital Ecosystem Avatars (IDEA) Consortium aims to build computer simulations (‘avatars’) to the scale of whole social-ecological systems. With a common boundary constraining their physical, ecological, and social networks, islands have long been recognized as model systems for ecology and evolution . Their geography sets clear limits on the species to inventory, space holders (ground cover) to measure, organisms to count, physical–chemical contexts to characterize, and natural–human interactions to consider. The knowledge and cyberinfrastructure developed for island avatars, and complementary efforts targeting major cities like Singapore  and New York , will eventually scale to countries and regions, including their associated coastal waters. Island avatars are built from the genome up, while at the same time downscaling regional models to establish boundary conditions. They address many of the challenges faced by macrosystems ecology , and general ecosystem models . Indeed, an Earth Avatar would converge on the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS)  and Future Earth . The IDEA approach, however, avoids overwhelming complexity, instead concentrating effort on the simplest social–ecological systems that include most of the data types covered by GEOSS, and many of the processes found globally.
The small island of Moorea (134 km2) in French Polynesia is well placed for a proof-of-concept study. About 15 km northwest of Tahiti with a population of ~17,000, Moorea is perhaps the best studied island in the world  thanks to several decades of activity at its two research stations (CNRS-EPHE CRIOBE , and the University of California (UC) Berkeley Gump Station ), which respectively house France’s Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Research (LabEx CORAIL ), and the US National Science Foundation’s only coral reef Long-Term Ecological Research (MCR LTER) site , which is administered by UC Santa Barbara. Additionally, the Moorea Biocode Project  has characterized every species (>1 mm) on the island, including genetic sequences, museum specimens, and digital photographs . While there is still much more to learn, especially concerning the vastly diverse microbes  and human systems, the existing physical and biotic databases provide a powerful foundation for whole system ecological modeling. Combined with a wealth of data on the resilience of Moorea’s ecosystems, including the response of its coral reefs to large-scale perturbations  and the evolution of Polynesian society , Moorea has many of the characteristics needed to advance systems ecology and sustainability science .
Working with the local population to co-develop island avatars as “boundary objects”  is critical to ensuring that the simulations are useful, credible and legitimate. Non-scientist stakeholders take joint ownership of their avatar by prioritizing the policies to simulate (e.g., conservation plans), and by contributing traditional/local knowledge and data. The participatory approach includes citizen science, taking advantage of newly affordable technologies and helping reconnect people with natural processes through observation and experiential learning.
Research priorities of the IDEA Consortium
1. Data science
Integrating diverse data sources, coupling models, and visualizing information
2. Physical modeling
Oceanic and atmospheric forcing, and physical-chemical properties and fluxes
3. Genes to ecosystems
Biodiversity dynamics, evolutionary processes, and ecological interactions
4. Social-ecological systems
Coupling past, present, and future ecosystems to human activities
5. Simulations, synthesis, and service
Use-oriented avatar as a platform for data exploration, scenario-based planning, and education
The new Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has prioritized an assessment on the “Modeling of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services” . Addressing this grand challenge will require computational models of place that are able to simulate alternative scenarios and visualize likely outcomes for scientists, policymakers, and the public . Big data, computational ecology, and sophisticated simulation platforms cannot solve all of the world’s problems, but harnessing scalable technology addresses the lack of capacity in local knowledge management systems, and can help illuminate pathways to sustainability. In an era in which society is seeking to transition to clean energy and sustainable economic growth, knowledge of the pathways to these futures is needed, along with showcases demonstrating that such change is possible. At least initially, examples are more likely to come from islands and cities than large regions and countries. Islands are disproportionately affected by global change and epitomize the coastal zones where most of humanity lives. They serve as models for continental regions and, ultimately, for our common island home: planet Earth.
Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l’Environnement (Center for Island Research and Environmental Observatory)
Group on earth observations
Global Earth Observation System of Systems
Island Digital Ecosystem Avatars
International panel on biodiversity and ecosystem services
Long Term Ecological Research
This paper is a contribution of CRIOBE and the Gump South Pacific Research Station (#213). Work was supported in part by: the Institute of Theoretical Physics and the Pauli Center at ETH Zurich; the US National Science Foundation (NSF Moorea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research Site, OCE-1236905; Socio-Ecosystem Dynamics of Natural-Human Networks on Model Islands, CNH-1313830; Coastal SEES: Adaptive Capacity, Resilience, and Coral Reef State Shifts in Social-ecological Systems, OCE-1325652, OCE-1325554); the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology; Genomic Standards Consortium); Courtney Ross and the Ross Institute; UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Research; CRIOBE; and the France Berkeley Fund (FBF 2014-0015).
Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
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