Qualitative modelling

A NERP Workshop (Hobart, Oct 2014)

What is qualitative modelling and when would we do it?

Qualitative modelling workshoppers at work. (Five people in the photo and not one looking at the camera or each other. Talk about introspective brain power.) (Photo by Justine Shaw)

Qualitative modelling workshoppers at work. (Five people in the photo and not one looking at the camera or each other. Talk about introspective brain power.) (Photo by Justine Shaw)

Most conservation management problems involve decisions in systems that are both complex and uncertain. In recent years, difficult experience has taught us that unknown ecosystem interactions can undermine, or even reverse the gains expected from management interventions. High-profile examples include the explosion of rabbit numbers on Macquarie Island following the eradication of cats, and the decline of seabirds on the Little Barrier Island in New Zealand, after rat numbers surged following the eradication of cats. A set of techniques known as ‘qualitative modelling’ offers decision-makers a chance to forecast some of these negative outcomes before they happen, and to make decisions that avoid complex, negative management outcomes.

Late last year, researchers interested in qualitative modelling from the University of Queensland, the University of Melbourne, CSIRO, UC Santa Barbara, Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) and the Institute of Marine & Antarctic Science (University of Tasmania) met for three days at the AAD headquarters in Kingston, Tasmania. Workshop attendees shared their experience with applying qualitative modelling to ecosystem conservation, reporting work that spanned a broad range of research topics: Krill/sea ice interactions, fishery impacts on ocean ecosystems, invasive predator/prey interactions, freshwater lake dynamics, island invasive species management, and understanding threatened species interactions. Study ecosystems ranged from Christmas Island, the islands of the sub-Antarctic, Booderee National Park in Jervis Bay, the Southern Ocean, inshore Tasmanian marine ecosystems, and California’s Santa Cruz Island.

Participants discussed the definition, history and evolution of qualitative modeling, and its applications to modern ecological research. People discussed their newly developed models and code. Various limitations of qualitative models were also presented and ways to address this into the future were discussed.

Of course there was the inevitable white board filled with lots of code and network diagrams. There were five PhD students contributing, in addition to federal government senior research scientist and university academics. It was a great opportunity for colleagues to get together and further develop ongoing projects for new collaborations to form.

More info: Michael Bode bodem@unimelb.edu.au 

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