Making predictions in a changing world: The benefits of individual-based ecology
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Ecologists urgently need a better ability to predict how environmental change affects biodiversity. We examine individual-based ecology (IBE), a research paradigm that promises better a predictive ability by using individual-based models (IBMs) to represent ecological dynamics as arising from how individuals interact with their environment and with each other. A key advantage of IBMs is that the basis for predictions—fitness maximization by individual organisms—is more general and reliable than the empirical relationships that other models depend on. Case studies illustrate the usefulness and predictive success of long-term IBE programs. The pioneering programs had three phases: conceptualization, implementation, and diversification. Continued validation of models runs throughout these phases. The breakthroughs that make IBE more productive include standards for describing and validating IBMs, improved and standardized theory for individual traits and behavior, software tools, and generalized instead of system-specific IBMs. We provide guidelines for pursuing IBE and a vision for future IBE research.