Michael Dietze, an associate professor of Earth & Environment, discussed concepts from his new book, Ecological Forecasting (Princeton University Press 2017), at a seminar hosted by the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future on June 21.
In the book, Prof. Dietze presents “a new way of doing ecology,” bringing together the concepts and tools needed to make ecology a more predictive science, and to make ecologists more able to respond to environmental challenges.
Prof. Dietze began the seminar by explaining that ecological forecasts present an opportunity to dramatically improve decision-making across a range of environmental challenges in the future, including climate change, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, drought, endangered species, and disease. He pointed out the mismatch between scales of space and time in typical forecasts with those needed for practical decision-making, and called for a feedback loop of learning from predictions to establish a more flexible, iterative approach that updates forecasts when new data becomes available. He also talked about the importance of accurately accounting for how uncertainty changes over time as a way to measure predictability, and identified five factors that increase variance in forecasts: the internal stability of ecological processes, the external stability of those processes, parameters, random effects, and error.
He concluded by acknowledging that we cannot measure everything because of the heterogeneity of ecological challenges, but that identifying patterns to the problems we face is critical. He noted that the explosion of ecological data in recent years is a promising development, and called for more graduate training on ecological forecasting to use that data to begin making better predictions.
Click here to learn more about Prof. Dietze’s lab.