Modelling ecosystems

UK scientists have developed a new way of modelling ecosystems that can predict the impact of changes to climate or farming practices.

The tool will also uncover approaches that could be used to mitigate the impact of changes in agricultural management that are likely to result from a need for increased agricultural production.

For example, the new approach could be used to model impacts on biodiversity that would result from the planting of genetically modified (GM) crops.

Dr David Bohan of Rothamsted Research, an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and his team, developed the tool along with colleagues at the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI) and biotechnology company Syngenta.

The tool, a model of an intricate food web, can be used to assess the impact of any human- or climate-driven disturbance to an ecosystem by predicting the disturbances such events cause to groups of plants and animals that are linked together in the web.

Bohan said: ‘The world’s ecosystems are undergoing marked change and we are seeing declines in global biodiversity that have wide-reaching impacts, especially in agriculture. It is absolutely crucial that we get a handle on what is going to be affected and how we can do something about it.

‘Models are being used with some success to make predictions about future changes in temperature and rainfall, but rather little research has been done towards predicting effects of climate change or other disturbances on natural or agricultural ecosystems.’