Predicting ecological regime shift under climate change: New modelling techniques and potential of molecular-based approaches
Many ecological communities exist in a stable state where, if undisturbed, no net change will occur in the populations or in the interactions between the component parts of the system. In this paper we present computational methods (evolutionary algorithms and random searches) to parameterize mathematical models that describe communities in stable states. The initial parameterization of the model requires only "best guess" estimates for parameters and can therefore be used in data-poor situations. The technique locates the stable state that occurs with minimum deviation from these parameters. Alternative stable states in which the community may exist after a disturbance event can also be assessed using this technique, even though the number of alternative states may be large. Using available but incomplete data from an intertidal grazer/biofilm community, we created a prediction of the dynamics of both a pre- and post-disturbance community. Using limited data, we then predicted the most likely post-disturbance community, which proved to be a good match to experimental data, indicating the usefulness of this technique as a predictive tool.