Predicting changes in biodiversity

Predictive models  aid understanding about system dynamics, evaluate the effectiveness of alternative policies and assess the performance of indicators for monitoring change. Our work in this area includes models of social-ecological systems, ecosystem services, ecological models for decision support, and testing biodiversity indicators (which includes predictive modelling and scenario analysis as a means of testing indicator performance. Projects include:

Managing development, ecosystem services and biodiversity on the Tiwi Islands: Emily Nicholson
In partnership with the Tiwi Land Council, we are developing a range of models of species distribution and viability under a range of development and land management scenarios. We will integrate models of economic development, biodiversity and ecosystem services for the Tiwi Islands, to understand and predict the benefits and impacts of development options. We will then integrate the models into new tools for quantifying the effects of different development scenarios, including agricultural development, and for land-use planning that accounts for real-world complexity and reflects Tiwi land management goals. MSc student Bill La Marca has started work on distribution modelling of mammals species to use in conservation planning methods.

Fisherman near Anororo, Lac Alaotra. Photo by Andrea Wallace.

Social-ecological modelling in Lac Alaotra, Madagascar: Emily Nicholson
To ensure the supply of ecosystem services and biodiversity, we need an improved understanding of the interactions between humans and the natural environment they depend upon, and decision tools that include human behaviour. Quantitative models can help with both understanding and supporting decisions in the management of social-ecological systems. Our main case study is Lac Alaotra, Madagascar, a wetland system that is one of the key rice-production areas of the country, the country’s largest inland fishery, and is of high biodiversity value. This work is in collaboration with Andrea Wallace, EJ Milner-Gulland, Julia Jones, and Richard Young (Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust). This work is ongoing – please contact Emily if you are interested in working in this area.


  • Wallace APC, Milner-Gulland E.J., Jones JPG, Bunnefeld N, Young R & Nicholson E (2015) Quantifying the short-term costs of conservation interventions for fishers at Lake Alaotra, Madagascar. PLoS One, in press
  • Schlüter M., McAllister R.R.J., Arlinghaus R., Bunnefeld N., Eisenack K., Hölker F., Milner-Gulland E.J., Müller B., Nicholson E., Quaas M. & Stöven M. (2012). New horizons for managing the environment: A review of coupled social-ecological systems modeling. Natural Resource Modeling, 25 (1), 219-272 [link].
  • Nicholson E., Mace G.M., Armsworth P.R., Atkinson G., Buckle S., Clements T., Ewers R.M., Fa J.E., Gardner T.A., Gibbons J., Grenyer R., Metcalfe R., Mourato S., Muuls M., Osborn D., Reuman D.C., Watson C. & Milner-Gulland E.J. (2009). A research agenda for ecosystem services in a changing world. Journal of Applied Ecology, 46, 1139-1144 [link].