Generalized modeling of empirical social-ecological systems
Steven J. Lade and Susa Niiranen
Natural Resource Modeling 30, e12129, 2017
Modeling social-ecological systems is difficult due to the complexity of ecosystems and of individual and collective human behavior. Key components of the social-ecological system are often over-simplified or omitted. Generalized modeling is a dynamical systems approach that can overcome some of these challenges. It can analyze qualitative system dynamics such as regime shifts despite incomplete knowledge of the model's constituent processes, but has been used primarily in theoretical contexts. Here, we review generalized modeling and use a recent study on the Baltic cod fishery's boom and collapse to demonstrate its application to modeling the dynamics of empirical social-ecological systems. These empirical applications demand new methods of analysis suited to larger, more complicated generalized models than is common in theoretical contexts. Generalized modeling is a promising tool, in both participatory and research settings, for rapidly developing mathematically rigorous, process-based understanding of a social-ecological system's dynamics despite limited knowledge of the system.