PerspectiveEcology

The Art of Ecological Modeling

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Science  20 Jul 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6092, pp. 306-307
DOI: 10.1126/science.1225049

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Summary

Scientists appear to have a very limited capacity to predict the behavior of nonlinear dynamic systems, including ecological systems (1). As understanding of these systems improves, uncertainty around system behavior tends to increase rather than decline (2). The reason for this paradoxical observation is that the uncertainty in the models used for prediction has been underestimated. Many of today's ecological models have excessively optimistic ambitions to predict ecosystem and population dynamics. Some recent studies (35)—including that by Mougi and Kondoh (6) on page 349 of this issue—help to specify where the limits of prediction may lie.