Using mechanistic models to scale ecological processes across space and time

Publication Type:

Journal Article


BIOSCIENCE, AMER INST BIOLOGICAL SCI, Volume 53, Number 1, 1444 EYE ST, NW, STE 200, WASHINGTON, DC 20005 USA, p.68-76 (2003)


ecosystem models, long-term ecological research, mechanistic models, scaling, spatial projection


Human activities affect the natural environment at local to global scales. To understand these effects, knowledge derived from short-term studies on small plots needs to be projected to much broader spatial and temporal scales. One way to project short-term, plot-scale knowledge to broader scales is to embed that knowledge in a mechanistic model of the ecosystem. The National Science Foundation's Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network makes two vital contributions to this type of modeling effort: (1) a commitment to multidisciplinary research at individual sites, which results in a broad range of mutually consistent data, and (2) long-term data sets essential for estimating rate constants for slow ecosystem processes that dominate long-term ecosystem dynamics. In this article, we present four examples of how a mechanistic approach to modeling ecological processes can be used to make projections to broader scales. The models are all applied to sites in the LTER Network.